Friday, March 19, 2010

President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have begun their so-called “last push” to pass a government takeover of health care — whether Americans like it or not. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goal.

While most liberals in Congress continue to push for government-run health care, no matter what it costs, and no matter how many people don’t want it, socialized medicine will reduce the quality of health care and eliminate the good parts of our health care system.

Our country is based on individual freedom, choice and free markets. Yet, the biggest problems with the health care system today are escalating costs, lack of access for the uninsured and lack of choice for those who have coverage. But these problems have been created by government. Instead of twisting arms and cutting backroom deals to pass a behemoth health care overhaul, why not pass smaller changes that get at the real problems?

First, the federal tax code penalizes individuals who choose to purchase health insurance on their own, while, at the same time, it rewards businesses that purchase coverage for their employees.

Ourbroken system makes it all but impossible to buy health insurance except through one’s employer. Employer-provided health care is tax-free, while individually purchased insurance must be paid for with after-tax dollars. This makes the cost of buying a health care plan that meets your family’s needs 30 to 50 percent higher.

Congress must change the antiquated tax laws which have destroyed the market forces in health care. This would address the rising cost and waning quality in health care today. It would also reduce the barriers government has erected, infringing on the personal relationship between doctors and patients.

We must empower individuals — whether covered by an employer-paid plan or not — to choose the right health plan for them. When individuals can “shop with their feet,” health care will truly be reformed, not re-regulated.

Allowing employees the right to spend an amount provided by their employer on the health plan of their choice, without changing the tax consequences, will enable employees to control their health care choices. If they are abused by or not satisfied with their health care plan, they can change plans. Plans that treat patients well will prosper and those that don’t will fail.

At his summit, President Obama argued that he has incorporated the “Republican idea” of allowing Americans to purchase insurance across state lines in his health care reform proposal.

Yet the Democrats’ proposal looks nothing like the plan that I authored and Republicans have championed to lower health care costs, hold insurance companies accountable and increase competition.

Rather than embrace this common-sense idea, congressional Democrats are pushing a proposal to allow states to form “compacts.” Yet, this is already the law. Today, states can allow their residents to buy insurance licensed in other states. The compacts proposal is nothing but window dressing for the appearance of bipartisanship. Most importantly, President Obama’s proposal will do nothing to increase competition or free Americans to purchase more affordable health coverage offered in other states.

The president also said he supports the concept of allowing purchase of insurance across state lines, as long as consumer protections are in place. I agree — which is why I believe we should create consumer protections that force insurance companies to meet solvency standards, provide independent third-party review when companies deny benefits, and prevent insurers from dramatically raising premiums when a policy holder becomes sick.

According to a study by theUniversityofMinnesota, enacting real interstate purchasing into law would enable 12 million additional Americans to afford coverage. By allowing policies to be sold with fewer benefit mandates, we can make health insurance more affordable for more Americans.

Before too many bones are broken this week, the president should swallow his pride, scrap his federal government takeover of health care, and embrace common sense solutions like updating the tax code and allowing people to purchase health insurance just like they do their car insurance.

Steps like these will lower health care costs and provide coverage to the uninsured — goals that all Americans share.Congress should enact real health care solutions, not in a gigantic bill that submerges our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in ever-deepening debt.

Rep. John Shadegg is an Arizona Republican.

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