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BARRASSO: Doctor’s orders

Americans need patient-centered care, not Obamacare

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Americans have been waiting for this moment for two years. The Supreme Court finally is hearing arguments this week about the constitutionality of President Obama's health care law. The American people have made up their minds; an overwhelming majority of people across the country say that Washington has no right to force them to buy a government-approved product.

As a physician and a U.S. senator, I have warned since the very beginning about many troubling aspects of Mr. Obama's unprecedented health-insurance mandate. Not only does he believe he can order you to buy insurance, the president also incorrectly equates health insurance coverage with medical care. After caring for patients for 25 years, I know that's another empty Washington promise.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that this country faces a shortage of 63,000 doctors by 2015. Instead of solving this caregiver crisis, the president's health care law gives more power to Washington bureaucrats. The law provides for thousands of new Internal Revenue Service agents to make sure people have health insurance but fails to deal in any meaningful way with the shortage of nurses and doctors to actually take care of them.

Seniors face additional roadblocks to care. Because the law cuts $500 billion from Medicare, the program's actuary expects up to 40 percent of Medicare providers will become unprofitable. Many of them may have to drop out of the program entirely. Once that happens, how far will senior citizens have to travel or how long will they have to wait to see a doctor?

The unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats who will serve on the president's new Independent Advisory Board, (IPAB), will also harm seniors' care. This board will set limits on how much Medicare pays for a doctor's visit, bypass surgery or a hip replacement. Just like with other cuts, once the IPAB-recommended reimbursement falls too low, some hospitals may no longer be able to afford to provide those services.

The president's plan also would put millions of uninsured people on Medicaid. Already, nearly half of all doctors will not see patients on Medicaid because of very low reimbursement rates.

If this law stands, millions of Americans will be left with health insurance "coverage" that makes the Obama administration feel better - and the American people feel worse. Americans of all ages will find that a weak White House-mandated insurance card will not provide the care they expect. When they go to find doctors and nurses, they will discover bureaucrats and political promises.

Our health care system was not perfect before this law was signed, but it will be disastrous if it stays in place.

The good news is that Americans have reason to be optimistic.

The Supreme Court's ruling could be the first major opportunity for Washington to start over and finally deliver reform that truly improves health care in our country. If the individual mandate is deemed unconstitutional, the rest of this bad law will crumble and it will be practically impossible for Mr. Obama to put the pieces together again.

Republicans stand ready to lead on this important issue. It's time to go back to the drawing board and focus on patient-centered reforms. We must make it legal for Americans to buy health insurance from companies across state lines. We must restore their freedom to make their own health care decisions. We must end junk lawsuits that drive up the cost of everyone's care.

If the Supreme Court does not find that the law is unconstitutional, Republicans will continue to fight to repeal the entire law. We are committed to delivering health care reform that is patient-centered - not government-centered.

The president's health care law will be an anchor around the necks of Democrats in this fight for the White House and Congress. I predict that after this election, Republicans will have the seats we need in Congress and a president in the White House to strike down this bad law. If the Supreme Court doesn't do it, American voters will.

Either way, we must end Mr. Obama's dangerous experiment before it does additional harm to our country. We need to provide real reform that gives people the care they need from the doctor they want at a price they can afford.

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, is chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee and a physician.

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