By Congressman Charlie Dent
The debate over health care is a deeply personal one for most Americans. For nearly one million Pennsylvanians who are currently uninsured and for those who do have coverage but are faced with increasing costs, we must strive to make health insurance more accessible and affordable. At the same time, we must maintain and improve the high quality of care available in America.
Our country spends almost $2.5 trillion a year on health care, representing nearly 20 percent of our gross domestic product. Medicare and Medicaid are growing at an unsustainable rate and as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, our nation's financial obligations will continue to rise. Addressing health care costs is vital to the long-term economic health of the United States.
On July 14, House Democrats unveiled a 1,000-plus-page bill that would fundamentally alter our nation's health care system. Health care reform is too important -- to our country and to every American -- to get wrong.
The well-respected not-for-profit Mayo Clinic has said, ''The proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients. In fact, it will do the opposite.'' Worse, this legislation undermines the strengths of our system -- choice and innovation. It does expand coverage to many of the uninsured. However, it does so by jeopardizing the coverage of millions of Americans who are currently insured, shifting decisions about the practice of medicine from doctors' offices to bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and placing more stress on our economy.
The central feature of the House Democrats' health care proposal is the creation of a government-run health insurance option. Ultimately, the government plan will crowd out private insurance and limit choice. An independent analysis by the nonpartisan Lewin Group has estimated that as many as 114 million Americans will lose access to their current coverage as a result of this policy because employers will dump their employees into the government plan. Furthermore, this proposal will mean that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., will be deciding which doctors you can see, what procedures you can have, and when you will be treated.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the House legislation will result in more than $1 trillion in new spending and increase the deficit by $239 billion over the next 10 years. CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf has said, ''In the legislation that has been reported, we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount, and on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs.'' It would be irresponsible for Congress to proceed with a proposal that straddles our nation with more debt when it doesn't fundamentally reduce the rising costs of health care.
Instead, I believe we can expand access to health insurance through common-sense policies that address the unique needs of the uninsured population. More than half of the 45.7 million Americans who are uninsured are younger than 35. Many of these individuals don't buy insurance because they are healthy. We should be sure that they have access to less-costly catastrophic plans and provide greater flexibility by allowing young adults up to 29 years to stay on their parents' health insurance policy as a dependent. Additionally, 12 million uninsured Americans are already eligible for public programs like Medicaid or SCHIP. We should make sure these individuals and families are enrolled in the existing public programs or give them the option to use their current public support to join a cost-effective private plan. We should help subsidize the cost of insurance through a tax incentive for families who cannot afford quality coverage. Finally, we should provide a safety net for Americans who are medically uninsurable because of high costs or a pre-existing condition.
Access to insurance is only one part of comprehensive health care reform. The House Democrats' health care bill falls short in making the real reforms that are necessary to reduce lawsuit abuse through medical liability reform, promote patient-centered care, ensure health care dollars are spent on value and quality rather than quantity, provide incentives for prevention and wellness initiatives, advance cutting- edge technologies and innovative treatments, and increase efficiencies to contain unsustainable health-care spending.
We can work toward resolving many of these issues deliberately rather than rushing through a bill that will undoubtedly have serious consequences for American families and their employers.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican, lives in Allentown and represents the 15th District of Pennsylvania, which includes all or part of Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery and Berks counties.
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