- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:
(Part of our Reinventing Conservatism series)

Conservatives are comfortable with issues like spending and taxes, but reluctant to tackle with similar passion issues like education, energy, the environment and health care.

As a conservative and a physician, I call on my party to transform our terribly broken health care system by making it patient-centered. Our perceived reluctance to address the issue has left many Americans without a basic understanding even of what a conservative approach to health care looks like. Yet the cost of health care continues to rise, and millions of Americans are without adequate coverage.

Health care reform, while an enormous challenge, is perfect for demonstrating the effectiveness of conservative principles. Patient-centered health care is conservative. Empowering that personal relationship between a patient and a physician ensures the finest health care. Our goal must be to provide access to quality, affordable care that preserves this relationship without governmental interference.

As usual, adherents to the “government-as-solution” philosophy advocate more federal supervision and administration. This liberal approach relies on mandates, rationing, bureaucracy and third-party decision-making - all of which interfere with personal, private medical decisions.

Their approach to health care reform is incapable of providing quality care that is accessible, innovative and responsive. Achieving this type of care will require a fundamental change that honors one of the most basic conservative principles - personal ownership. Only when patients truly control their care will we see the positive change Americans desire.

To succeed, our conservative solution should be built on two pillars: access to care for all Americans, and coverage that is truly owned by patients and their families.

First, to provide access, we must reform our tax code so it makes financial sense for all Americans to have health care coverage.

Conservatives understand that consumers respond to incentives. Through the adoption of tax equity for the purchase of insurance, active and robust pooling mechanisms for increased purchasing power, and focused use of tax deductions and credits, we can ensure that it makes financial sense for all Americans to have coverage. Patients should be able to purchase care that fits their needs, not Washington’s.

The second pillar, patient-owned coverage, is vital for a successful patient-centered system. Currently, most Americans get health insurance through a third-party - either their employer or the government.

This system strips patients of their rightful decision-making power and results in a lack of accountability, flexibility and efficiency for you - the patient. To put people in control, rather than bureaucrats, we must create a new delivery structure in which patients have full ownership of their coverage.

When patients have the ability to “vote with their feet,” insurance providers will, of necessity, be more accountable and responsive to patient needs.

These two pillars would provide a platform for a host of positive, patient-centered changes to our health care system based on the conservative principles of choices, competition, ownership and individual control.

With conservatism providing the path, we can offer the American people 21st century health care that is accessible, affordable, innovative, responsive and of the highest quality.

A great debate is upon us about what health care system we will leave for future generations. To ensure patient-centered care is not sacrificed for government control, we must provide principled solutions and communicate them with passion.

In doing so, we will not only succeed in implementing sustainable and long-needed reform, we will renew the faith of the American people that a broad application of conservative ideas will provide solutions to the issues of the day.

It is time for conservatives to expand the comfort zone in which we operate. Our solutions to the many challenges we face are more consistent with what the American people want. By applying positive principles to every problem, we will reinvent conservatism in the eyes of the American people and set the course for a better tomorrow.

Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, is a doctor who practiced orthopedic surgery for more than 20 years. He also is a member of the House Financial Services Committee and chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

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