Lawmakers need to slow down, focus on efficiency, state physician says

Deborah Carney
October 20, 2009
Mrs. Leontine (Tina) Harris
October 22, 2009

Dear Editor:

The debate over health care reform has moved at a feverish pace this year, leading to concern that Congress will hastily pass a bill that doesn’t meet the real challenges facing the next generation. Everyone agrees health care affordability and accessibility is important, and that the number of medically-uninsured in this country is tragic.

However, the current plan increases taxes for four years before actually being implemented in 2013, so what is the rush to pass a bad bill?

I recently joined the Coalition to Protect Patient’s Rights (CPPR) Steering Committee to help address this problem. This 10,000-member organization, which includes many doctors and health care professionals, is committed to helping lawmakers understand the impact of their reforms.

Arbitrary cuts will have real consequences. They will affect your ability to choose your preferred doctor or ideal health insurance plan and obtain needed services. The $500 billion in proposed cuts to Medicare will result in much higher co-pays and fewer benefits to our most vulnerable citizens. That isn’t consistent with Congress’s objectives of expanding care.

Quality care cannot be maintained with deep cuts. Instead, the key to reform is greater efficiency. There’s plenty of opportunity to save money by overhauling our current system’s problematic aspects, but not by creating new ones.

Chief among these is medical malpractice. Despite the fact that 80 percent of frivolous malpractice lawsuits are closed without payment, they cost doctors time and money and undoubtedly affect their medical judgment. An effective health care policy must include tort reform that can appropriately reimburse injured parties rather than enriching attorneys.

The insurance industry can improve value through competition with increased flexibility, portability and availability across state lines and embracing new ideas like health savings accounts to reward patients who use the system wisely.

Above all, an efficient system lacks a public option. The idea may seem nice, but any government-controlled health care undermines marketplace competition, makes its own rules and has no accountability for denying care. A public option is subsidized with guaranteed taxpayer dollars, creating an uneven playing field for private insurers relying solely on their premiums. A government-dominated marketplace will be less innovative and efficient and bring about substandard health care.

Health care represents one-sixth of the economy and affects everyone. Reform is needed, but we cannot afford to rush legislation without an inadequate policy. More than 100 CPPR doctors from across the country will be visiting Washington to discuss these issues better, long-studied recommendations with lawmakers – but they need to hear from patients as well. If any of the provisions I’ve described seem practical to you, I encourage you to contact your elected representatives and let them know before it’s too late.

Michael S. Ellis, M.D., FACS,

New Orleans, La.