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PRICE: Preserving the promise to patients

Reform must keep doctors in charge of health care rather than bureaucrats

- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that a long-term health care program called the CLASS Act - enacted as part of last year's troubled health care reform package - was being shelved because none of the bureaucrats in Washington could figure out how to make it viable and financially sustainable. That is a refreshing, if fleeting, moment of clear thinking. If only the administration would acknowledge that the same structural flaws and budgetary gimmickry that make the CLASS Act untenable are sown throughout the entire health care law.

President Obama's health care reform law is headed for a fiscal and logistical train wreck - for the government, individuals, doctors and job creators all across the country. The math does not add up. A significant portion of the purported savings in the health care law were to come from the CLASS Act program's early revenue stream. It has become abundantly clear that this was an unreliable source of savings and never should have been counted as strengthening the long-term fiscal outlook.

The rest of the projected savings in the law are similarly a farce. Unfortunately, the tax burdens and regulations are real and will rewrite nearly one-sixth of the American economy. Rather than focus on getting our economy moving again, businesses are learning that they will need to devote precious time and capital toward complying with the new regulations being put in place. Many likely will be forced to end the current coverage options for their employees. HHS itself has admitted that up to 64 percent of large-employer plans could see their grandfathered status taken away as the law is implemented. So much for Mr. Obama's promise that "if you like your current insurance, you can keep that insurance."

But for all the costs and logistical nightmares associated with this experiment in big government, it is the damage to the doctor-patient relationship that will be most detrimental to America's health care system.

To date, 6,500 pages of new regulations have been added to the nation's bureaucratic handbook as the Obama administration lays the groundwork for implementing its sweeping reforms. That number will balloon in the months and years to come. If allowed to continue, the process will directly undermine the rights of patients to make individual choices and the rights of families and physicians to make informed decisions about their personal health care. The bureaucratic rule-making process will amount to death by 1,000 cuts - one regulatory page at a time - for America's health care system.

The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) - a group of 15 unelected bureaucrats appointed to determine how, when and where the government will deny care to patients - is the most egregious example of where regulatory might at the federal level will impact the quality of care in America. It is a cynical attempt to lower the cost of health care by deleting health care choices. It will not make health care cheaper, just less accessible, so the government's bottom line looks better.

All this is reason enough to repeal the president's health care law. Repeal would at the very least protect Americans and American job creators from having their health care and livelihoods further undermined by Washington. Yet, our health care system is badly in need of reform. The status quo is unacceptable for all. There are solutions that positively would improve access to affordable care with greater choices. It can all be done without handing greater authority over to the federal government - patient-centered solutions like those found in H.R. 3000, the Empowering Patients First Act.

Built on the premise that patients and their doctors are the ones who should be making personal health care decisions, the Empowering Patients First Act makes the purchase of health coverage financially feasible for all. It solves the insurance challenges of pre-existing conditions and portability, and it seeks to end the practice of defensive medicine through robust reforms to address lawsuit abuse. In addition, it encourages wellness and prevention programs and establishes quality care measures based on physician input, not Washington's priorities.

Just as the president's health care law must be repealed, our health system must be reformed with patient-centered policies that preserve and protect the doctor-patient relationship. This is what will ensure accessibility, affordability and quality of America's health care system.

Rep. Tom Price is a Republican from Georgia and an orthopedic surgeon. He serves as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in the House of Representatives.

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