- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

Over the weekend, congressional negotiators completed workonthe Medicare reform/prescription drug bill. This legislation represents not only a new chapter in American health care but also a historic opportunity to put a conservative imprint on a major entitlement program in need of reform. As one of the negotiators — and as a conservative — I strongly support this legislation and believe it should become law.

Our goal upon entering the House-Senate conference was to reform Medicare by following several commonsense principles. The final agreement will produce a better health care system for American seniors by delivering on our promise of market-oriented reforms.

First, seniors deservemore healthcare choices. As conservatives, we believe in the ability of American seniorstomake smart health care decisions. Yet they can’t make thoughtful choices without a broad menu. This legislation turns a new page in the Medicare program by providing incentives for a variety of new options, allowing older Americans to tailor their health care to their own needs rather than the dictates of bureaucrats in Washington.

Second, the Medicare program needs more competition. As conservatives, we believe competition will improve quality and keep costs in check. The conference agreement provides new incentives to strengthen existing private plans and creates an environment where new products and services can emerge. Gone will be the days of a one-size-fits-all program designed and implemented by the federal government. Just imagine the improved quality, satisfaction and cost containment once a variety of alternative plans compete to provide the best health care possible for our seniors. This legislation provides real incentives for health care entrepreneurs and others to provide seniors with the latest innovations in disease management and care. Just because Medicare was created in the 1960s doesn’t mean it has to provide ‘60s-style health care.

Third, this legislation is the best opportunity to prepare America’s health care system for the major demographic shifts that will — if left unaccounted for — cripple America’s health care system. Thirty million more Americans will age into Medicare over the next decade. As this unfolds, the reforms included in this legislation will become more critical than ever. The legislation now before Congress provides the best opportunity in a generation to help slow the rate of Medicare growth by introducing a variety of new market-oriented reforms.

Fourth, the status quo is unacceptable. Compared to the current Medicare program, this legislation offers more choice and an expanded role for the private sector in providing health care for seniors — changes we will never realize unless we pass this bill. Missing this opportunity to support change would be a catastrophic mistake. We will never again have a realistic opportunity to inject these reforms at this price level.

Having said that, this is a major entitlement program, and it deserves continued close scrutiny in the years ahead. This bill may not be perfect, but legislating in a changing world is never a one-shot deal. Some of the reforms may need adjustment or augmentation, and if that’s the case, we can revisit them in the years ahead.

Introducing some market-oriented reforms in the Medicare program now will also pay major dividends for other health care policy changes in the future. Once we demonstrate the successof Medicare legislation based on free-market principles, we can expand these principles to other areas of health policy dominated for decades by a liberal, “government knows best” ideology. This bill is not the last conservative health policy initiative, and passing it provides a springboard for more.

Missing this historic opportunity to inject real reform into a major entitlement program would be irresponsible. We need to create not only a better Medicare system, but also a Medicare system that reflects the principles and convictions of the Republican majority in the House and Senate. The conference agreement does both.

This Medicare bill is the prescription to fix an ailing program desperately in need of conservative reforms. We hope our colleagues join us in passing these needed changes.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is a Republican from Texas.

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