ObamaCare bends the cost curve the wrong way


Any national healthcare reform must focus on increasing efficiency so that more Americans can have access to affordable coverage.

Sounds simple, but if it was all that easy, we would have done it years ago. The debate over how to get healthcare coverage to all Americans, after all, goes back to at least the Truman Administration.

Unfortunately, Washington Democrats refused to incorporate Republican ideas that would help make their plans more workable and affordable.

Instead, what we’re looking at now is a massive government takeover of the healthcare industry. As a result, a process aimed at efficiency will render the opposite: exploding costs and lower quality of care.

President Obama says his plan for a “public option” — a government-sponsored insurance plan — is needed to keep private insurance companies “honest.” He insists that you can keep the insurance you have now if you like it.

But private companies can’t compete with a government plan that doesn’t pay taxes and can impose price controls like Medicare.

Currently, Medicare reimburses doctors, on average, 20 percent less than private insurers do. Healthcare providers make up their losses caring for Medicare and Medicaid patients by passing on the costs to patients with private insurance.

A “public option” for everybody simply multiplies a problem that’s already unsustainable.

Talking with people in Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District, I’ve gathered that my constituents don’t need esteemed economists to explain to them that huge government monopolies never lead to greater efficiency.

But that wisdom has somehow escaped congressional Democrats, whom I hope were paying attention to the giant red flags waved this week by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

With healthcare costs under the current system projected to skyrocket, Democrats say their plan will “bend the cost curve.” CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf, however, contradicted these claims in no uncertain terms.

“In the legislation that has been reported, we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount, and on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for healthcare costs,” Elmendorf said.

In other words: The Democrats’ plan does bend the cost curve, but it bends it the wrong way.

To pay for this plan, which will cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years, the Democrats propose a surtax on income that will disproportionately hit small business owners — the very people we’re depending on to create jobs and turn this dismal economy around.

We all want to find a way to cover the uninsured, who not only face personal crises and troubles but also impose severe costs on society by shifting costs to paying customers and taxpayers.

At this time, I would prefer targeted reforms to address these problems rather than a massive and unaffordable experiment.

Of the nearly 46 million people in the country who aren’t covered, nearly 10 million are not citizens. Another 14 million are eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP or VA benefits but just aren’t enrolled, and 9.1 million have household incomes above $75,000 and could afford to buy it on their own.

This leaves us with about 20 million who are chronically uninsured. Insuring this group poses steep challenges, I admit, but they pale in comparison to a government takeover of healthcare for 300 million Americans.

We can offer refundable tax credits to let patients directly purchase what works best for them.

We can institute portability, so that patients “own” their insurance and carry it with them from employer to employer.

We can open up insurance markets, allowing people to cross state lines to get the best deal.

We can let small businesses band together to increase their purchasing power and get lower rates.

We could curtail frivolous lawsuits.

There is no silver bullet that slays the beast we face. Americans are rightly worried about the high cost of coverage and the possibility of losing their insurance if they lose their jobs.

As a nation, though, we’ll be better off in the long run if we chip away at our biggest problems before we go down the Road of No Return of government-run healthcare.

It’s critical that we not implement a healthcare system that costs more while giving us much less.

[Lynn Westmoreland represents Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District.]

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