- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Families in Michigan and throughout America are concerned about the rising cost of health care. Costs continue to rise, emergency rooms are filled with the uninsured, and many Americans continue in jobs they may not enjoy just to keep their health insurance.

Our current health care system is fatally flawed, and right now more than 47 million individuals find themselves without coverage and millions more are underinsured. Now is the time to step forward with solutions that make health care more affordable and accessible, and place health-care decisions with medical professionals and patients.

For too long, according to polling data, the Republican Party has been “losing” the health-care issue to the Democrats. This should not be the case, as Republicans are pushing for real common-sense solutions and credible reforms.

I for one will not allow the Democrats to claim health care as their issue, especially since most Democrats support a government-run and taxpayer-funded single provider system in which Washington, D.C., bureaucrats would have ultimate decisionmaking authority over every American’s medical coverage.

Supporters of this government-run health care approach claim it will provide every American with a level of health care coverage, but fail to elaborate on the actual quality of care that will be provided.

Government-run health-care programs all over the world are failing to meet the needs of those who need coverage. According to Britain’s Department of Health, nearly 900,000 Britons were waiting for admission to National Health Service hospitals at a given time in 2006. In other European countries with government-based health care, people can wait for weeks, months and even years for important, specialized treatments, such as heart surgery or chemotherapy.

Empowering bureaucrats through a “Hillary-Obama Care” approach would provide the same level of compassion and customer service we have come to expect from the Internal Revenue Service. This kind of one-size-fits-all, Washington-based approach is wrong, and America needs a patient-centered health-care system that gives consumers direct control and choice over their health-care decisions.

With that goal in mind, recently I introduced the Making Health Care More Affordable Act (H.R. 5995). We hear a lot of radical promises from the other side, this bill offers common sense solutions that ties together six core reforms to make patient-centered, market-driven health care more affordable and accessible to all Americans:

(1) Provide a health-insurance tax credit: If Congress provides such tax credit of up to $2,500 for individuals and $6,000 for a family of four, health insurance will become more affordable for more Americans, and families will be able to take their health insurance with them when they switch jobs. Providing these tax credits will expand the health insurance market, make the current system more equitable, reduce the number of uninsured Americans and increase the available options, while using the market to bring down health insurance costs.

(2) Create association health plans: These plans allow small businesses to band together to increase buying power in the market. Such a reform would lower overhead costs for small businesses and reduce health care prices for employees.

(3) Make insurance purchasable across state lines: This will help create a national market for health insurance by having consumers, not bureaucrats, find the coverage that best suits consumer needs. Consumers should have access to all benefits and services available throughout the United States and this reform will allow a more efficient individual market.

(4) Build on Health Savings Accounts:These HSAs allow people to take control of their health-care decisions, make health insurance more affordable and increase choice. Though relatively new, HSAs offer consumers a wide range of benefits and are becoming increasingly popular as more Americans learn about how this individual ownership plan works. The number of Americans with HSAs increased 35 percent last year, meaning more than 6 million Americans are now seeing the benefits of consumer-based health care. HSAs will let more families build health care “nest eggs.”

(5) Stop lawsuit abuse: Frivolous lawsuits are driving up costs of health care, thus limiting the number of physicians pursuing careers in certain specialties and forcing doctors to practice defensive medicine. My bill places a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages and provides guidelines on how punitive damages are determined. For too long, trial lawyers have lined their own pockets by driving up health-care costs.

(6) Encourage health information technology: High-tech efficiencies, such as electronic health records, increase health care productivity, lower costs and reduce the potential for medical errors. In fact, a study by the nonpartisan Rand Corp. revealed widespread implementation of Health IT could save $162 billion in health-care costs and prevent 2.2 million undesired adverse drug reactions.

Democrats are not the only party discussing the lapses in coverage, high costs and bureaucratic red-tape American families are dealing with every day. Republicans are offering real reforms so important health-care decisions can be made by families, not HMOs or the whims of Washington, D.C., bureaucrats.

The GOP should rally around a consumer-based heath-care plan like the one I introduced to counter the draconian command-and-control plans of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. My legislation will improve quality of care, empower people to take control of their own health care and create a positive, consumer-driven alternative to free up our health- care system from heavy handed government mandates.

Passing the Making Health Care More Affordable Act will bring necessary reform to our broken health-care system and provide needed, high-quality health coverage to more Americans.

Tim Walberg, Michigan Republican, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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