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Sen. Cornyn: Lower Cost of Health Care - Without Giving Control To Washington

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas,

SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR

Health care reform is on the fast track in Washington. The elites have promised to pass a bill quickly, even though their specific proposals and how to pay for them have been very slow in coming. So legislation is speeding down the track without all the cars attached and without any idea how much fuel is needed to make it to the station. We don't know yet whether this train will deliver its passengers safely - or if we're headed for a train wreck.

I believe our top priority should be to lower the cost of health care, without reducing quality or access to care. Rising health care costs make it hard to make ends meet, whether you're putting together a family budget or a business plan. Health care costs have risen far faster than inflation in both good economic times and bad. Costs have forced many self-employed workers into the ranks of the uninsured. The American health care system now costs twice as much per capita as those in most of the developed world.

I believe we can lower the cost of health care without giving Washington more control over the decisions of doctors and patients. Yet more control in Washington is the vision behind the government plan proposed by Senator Edward Kennedy. To his credit, Senator Kennedy is the only Democrat on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue who has provided legislative detail on his specific health care reform proposals this year. But the more we learn about these proposals, the more concerned Americans should be that Washington elites will not fix the problems in our health care system, but only make them worse.

First, Senator Kennedy's bill will cost at least $1 trillion over the next ten years - and that's just the beginning. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that this huge price tag will reduce the net uninsured population by less than 30 percent. The taxpayers' $1 trillion does not include the cost of increasing eligibility for Medicaid for people up to 50 percent above the poverty line.

Second, Senator Kennedy's bill includes a government-run health care plan that will force at least 15 million people to lose their current private health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office recognizes that no current provider can long compete against a government that calls the balls and strikes even as it takes the field. According to the independent Lewin Group, a government plan could eventually take away current health benefits from 119 million Americans, and force 130 million Americans into a Washington-run health care plan.

Third, a new Washington-run plan will increase the cost of private insurance. "Cost-shifting" occurs when a health care provider accepts low government reimbursement rates, but only if it can charge extra to those with private insurance. This cost-shifting acts like a hidden tax on millions of American families and small businesses. One respected actuary estimates that cost-shifting increases the average American family's health care premium by more than 10 percent, or more than $1,500. Adding another new government health care plan on top of Medicare and Medicaid will only increase this cost.

Fourth, a new Washington-run plan would lead to government rationing of health care. Just look at the results in Canada. Thousands of our friends to the north come to the United States every year for life-saving surgeries, after their government has told them they'll just have to wait. Various studies suggest that Canadians, especially the poor, are less healthy under socialized medicine than those in our own country. More and more Canadians want to reduce the role of government and expand private options for health care, even as elites in Washington want to move America in the opposite direction.

Fifth, a new government plan would replicate the model of Medicare and Medicaid, which illustrate everything that can go wrong with Washington-run health care. Costs for both plans have exploded. Low reimbursement rates force many providers out of the system, and many patients to long waiting lines. Taxpayers pay up to $90 billion a year in fraudulent and wasteful medical bills, about two-thirds of that in the Medicare program alone.

The Kennedy Bill has other provisions that would increase Washington's control of our health care system - including new punitive tax increases. If a family doesn't have a Washington-regulated health care plan, they would pay a new tax. If a small business owner doesn't offer a Washington-regulated plan for every employee, then she would pay a new tax. These tax increases are designed not to raise revenue to pay for health care, but to punish families and businesses that step out of line.

There are alternatives to a Washington takeover of the health care system, and the best of them will give patients more control over their care. Innovators in both government and the private sector have learned that empowering patients as consumers can lower costs. They've learned that the right incentives can encourage patients to make healthier choices, and providers to compete for their business. These are the ideas that can drive successful reform of our health care system.

Health care reform can be successful if we take the time to get it right. If our experience with the Stimulus Bill tells us anything, it's that when Congress acts too quickly, it often delivers bad policy. I will insist that the Administration and Congressional leaders give the American people plenty of time to understand their proposals, and decide what they mean for themselves and their families. Washington elites want to dictate to the American people the future of health care, but I believe the best solutions will come when Washington begins to listen.

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