Government intervention is not the cure for poor health care

By Rep. Dan Roach

First, it was the banks. Then the federal government took over major corporations, such as insurance giant AIG and General Motors. Following that, Congress initiated “cap and trade” legislation that would impose new energy controls. Now the federal government wants to take over the most personal of our choices — health care.

Most people agree our health care system is in trouble and needs significant revisions. If you are one of the 11 percent in Washington state (15 percent nationwide) who does not have health insurance and cannot afford health care, it is a crisis. If you are one of those whose premiums have tripled in the last 10 years, it is a crisis. If you fear that a hospital visit or medical procedure could send you and your family into bankruptcy, it is a crisis. There are many reasons why health care needs to be reformed.

Unfortunately, it seems these fears are sending Washington state and Washington, D.C., in the wrong direction of a radical restructuring that means less choice and more government control. We need reforms, but we need the right kind of change.

I’m concerned people are being misled by claims that they would be able to keep their doctors and their current health plans. For example, under the proposed legislation, carriers offering individual health care plans would be prevented from accepting new enrollees beginning in 2013. That means those who have individual plans will be paying more for their health insurance because fewer people are in the risk pool. Those carriers would then also be prevented from offering benefits for new treatments and new drugs.

So, under the federal plan, you can indeed keep your insurance coverage — that is, if you can afford the higher premiums and are not interested in new technology. The reality, however, is that these restrictions would force millions of people out of their individual insurance plans and into the government exchange where choices are limited and where bureaucrats would decide which doctors you see and what treatments you would receive.

In addition, it’s estimated that government health care would cost as much as $1.042 trillion during the next 10 years. Employers who cannot afford this hefty tax bill would likely be forced to cancel health insurance for their employees. That means more Americans losing their current health insurance and pushed into a government health care system.

In countries with government-run health care, politicians make your decisions for you. They decide if you’ll get the procedure you need or if you are disqualified because the treatment is too expensive or because you are too old. Recently, the Vancouver Sun reported the government is considering delays of more than 6,000 scheduled surgeries in an effort to make up for a $200 million budget shortfall. That’s not the kind of health care system we need in the United States.

Here in Washington, the Legislature recently addressed a $9 billion shortfall through several ways, including cutting funding to the state’s Basic Health Plan by 43 percent. This has led to drastic premium increases for this subsidized health insurance program. It’s estimated that 30,000 people will lose their coverage because they cannot afford these increases.

Reform should not be synonymous with a government takeover of our entire health care system that could put the fiscal well-being of our nation at risk. It should be the right kind of reform that keeps health care patient-centered, rather than government-centered, protects the doctor-patient relationship, lowers costs, provides more access to treatment and doctors, protects the quality of health care with less interference from insurance companies and government bureaucrats, and provides assistance only to those who truly need it.

Several of my colleagues and I have proposed such a plan. Our 10-point proposal would lead to lower health care costs in Washington, reform the BHP, allow purchase of affordable health insurance plans from other states, expand health savings accounts, provide choices for small employers, offer tax credits on health care plans, improve cost transparency, create core-benefit plans for young adults and capitalize on health-care provider innovation. Our plan is based on the belief that people make better decisions about their personal and individual health care needs than politicians and bureaucrats.

As the national health care debate continues, let’s keep in mind something President Ronald Reagan said: “Public servants say, always with the best of intentions, ‘What greater service we could render if only we had a little more money and a little more power.’ But the truth is that outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector.”

We can do better than surrendering our health care system to the government. There is an important role for government in health care, but reforms must be focused on preserving what works, letting doctors and patients — not politicians — make the decisions, and finally, helping those people who truly cannot afford it.

State Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, represents the 31st Legislative District. He can be contacted at 360-786-7846 or from his Web site at: www.houserepublicans.wa.gov/Roach.