- - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As a doctor and congressman, I’m often asked what I prefer to be called. The answer for me is always doctor. I practiced medicine in Texas for 25 years, and my father and grandfather were doctors before me. Our primary concern was providing the best possible care for our patients, but that is no longer possible. Obamacare, whose online enrollment opened amid widespread crashes one year ago today, is killing the health care profession with high premiums and unstable coverage. It will continue to negatively impact patient care until we come up with common-sense solutions.

Most Republican members of Congress and I agree that repealing Obamacare is the best solution, but we also must face the reality that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. In 2014, 3.4 million Americans paid higher premiums for their health care, and those premiums will likely double in 2015. Six million Americans had their health plans canceled in 2013, and while these numbers are staggering, there is still no clear number for how many uninsured have gained coverage — the original mission of Obamacare. We can do better than this. In the absence of repealing the law, there are three simple policy changes that would effect immediate and positive change.

First, health savings accounts should be expanded. The accounts give patients the opportunity to spend their money the way they best see fit and will help to lower costs. A high-deductible health insurance plan coupled with a tax-deferred savings account means less cash outlays for premiums. If correctly done, those dollars remain available for medical expenses and patient costs decrease.

Second, premiums need to be tax deductible. In the large group market, there is tax preference for an employer to purchase insurance for an employee. We should also confer a tax preference on an individual buying in the individual market.

Finally, insurance sales should be allowed to cross state borders. Competition is a must to lower costs for patients, and they should be able to buy insurance across state lines. If we can buy auto insurance across state lines to save 15 percent in 15 minutes or to shop online for life insurance quotes, we should be able to do the same with health insurance.

Obamacare was passed in the middle of the night by leaders who admittedly did not know what was in the bill. Congress would never make homeland security decisions without consulting those who protect our country. I can’t understand why politicians thought they could fix a system as large and as complicated as the American medical system without giving doctors a voice in the process. We need to engage the voices of the health care professionals because they keenly understand how bureaucratic laws affect patients.

I chose to run for office because I knew I could represent our nation’s physicians, health care professionals and patients in Washington. What I quickly realized is that in order to effect change, it will take more than just one voice. That’s why I’m starting the STAT Initiative — to encourage medical professionals to speak up and share their concerns, ideas and stories about health care, and to get involved in the political process. My hope for the STAT Initiative is to engage, encourage and empower doctors and health care professionals to influence health care policy discussions, as well as support those in the profession who wish to run for elected office.

If we wait too long to get involved, we risk damaging the medical profession in this country forever. Already, we’re seeing a critical shortfall of health care professionals, a drop in research and innovation, and an unprecedented burden on doctors that leaves patients to bear the brunt. As I travel across the country, my message to health care professionals is simple — we can survive this if you get involved and share your expertise.

Almost everything possible is wrong with Obamacare. Repealing it is certainly the ultimate goal, but there are real problems that cannot wait two years to be fixed. Voltaire said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It’s time to do some good, or at least better.

Michael C. Burgess, a physician, is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. He is the founder of the Lone Star Leadership PAC, which launched the STAT Initiative.

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