Health Care Reform Needs the Right Solution, Not a Politically Expedient One
Nearly everyone acknowledges that our health care system needs reform. We are particularly aware of this in Texas, which is a leading example of how our system isn't working for so many patients. Texas, unfortunately, has the highest percentage of people without health insurance coverage in the nation. In fact, at a whopping 6 million, the number of uninsured Texans is roughly the same as the entire population of the state of Wisconsin! This poses a huge challenge for our physicians, nurses, and hospitals - and our taxpayers who are paying the high costs of uncompensated care for the uninsured. Also affected are the working families who can't get the basic care they need because insurance is unaffordable and health care costs are soaring.
Something as sweeping and consequential as health care reform needs the right solution, not a politically expedient one. Many of the proposed fixes moving through Congress are misguided. While we need reform, we must take care not to undermine what should be the foundation of health care in America - patient choice, affordable coverage, and the highest quality of care.
The Senate may soon consider legislation put forth by the Administration that solves little and creates a massive public health system. It will reduce patient choices, drive insurance companies out of business, and have minimal impact on the uninsured population. It will cost taxpayers more than $600 billion and cut $400 billion out of doctor and hospital reimbursements in Medicare and Medicaid.
One of the most troublesome aspects of the legislation, which embodies the Obama Administration's broad health care reform agenda, is the massive government expansion it would enact. A cornerstone of the plan is a governmentrun "option," or a federal insurance provider that is intended to compete with private health care insurers. Proponents maintain that a government-run insurer could provide cheaper coverage for Americans. Despite initial statements that Americans who like their doctors and health care plans will get to keep them, the President recently acknowledged that if employers drop private coverage in favor of the government-run option, patients would have no choice but to switch the plans and lose access to the physicians that they have come to trust. Under the Obama plan, 15 million Americans are poised to lose their private coverage. When our goal is to increase health insurance coverage, proposals that will actually reduce coverage defy common sense.
Furthermore, we must consider whether bureaucracy-run insurance is the best way to administer health care delivery. Government-managed entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid don't make a strong case for the "public option." In fact, billions of taxpayer dollars are wasted on fraud and abuse in Medicare each year. The program pays out more than it takes in, and by 2017, it will be totally broke. Worse yet, there is little indication that Medicare beneficiaries enjoy the choices that Administration officials would like us to think a government-run system offers. Today, 40 percent of physicians turn away Medicaid patients because the system is poorly administrated and it has a weak record of reimbursement.
We can do better, and for the long-term health of Americans, we must do better. Any reforms must reduce costs and increase access - this will not be accomplished through a government takeover of our health care system.
The right approach must encourage competition that is based on transparency and value, making health insurance a buyers' market in which patients have affordable choices and know what plans cost and what they offer. The right approach will support employers and small businesses so they have affordable options to offer their employees and their families. The right approach would offer tax credits to those who buy individual policies. The right approach must prevent insured taxpayers from absorbing the costs of uncompensated care, which currently raises Texas families' insurance premiums by over $1,500 annually. The right approach will allow Americans who are happy with their coverage to maintain the quality care they need with physicians they trust. And the right approach must actually accomplish the goal of removing barriers to medical care for all those who need it - including our 6 million uninsured in Texas.
Anything that does not address those fundamental components will not fix the problem, and could actually make it worse. We must not be pressured to rush an ill-conceived plan through the Senate in the same manner that the Democratic leadership forced the American public to swallow the economic "stimulus" plan earlier this year. Americans now realize the stimulus plan was oversold, and they are not seeing the promised return on one of our nation's costliest investments ever. Now, with the health of millions of Americans in the balance, Congress cannot afford to get health care reform wrong.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas.