By Johnny Isakson
One of the biggest and most important issues for Americans right now is the health care reform being debated in Congress. This issue touches every single one of us and I am glad to see so many Georgians and so many Americans engaged on this issue.
On Sept. 9, 2009, President Obama addressed both chambers of Congress in an attempt to increase support for a government-run plan. The president is insisting on a government option, but the thousands of Georgians I heard from back home during August are very leery of being pushed into a government-run system that will have to be paid for with higher taxes. I will not be a part of driving Americans to a government-run health care system that we can’t afford.
The United States has the best health care in the world, but that is not to say that our health care system cannot be improved. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and a former small business owner, I am aware of the problems our nation faces regarding health care and am sensitive to the struggles the average, hard-working American faces when trying to gain access to adequate and affordable health care. I agree we must look for solutions to find ways to provide access to affordable health care for individuals who lack access to health insurance through an employer.
I voted against the health care bill in the Senate HELP Committee in July for several reasons. Republicans were shut out of the original drafting of the bill prior to the Committee hearing, and numerous amendments designed to rein in out-of-control spending and achieve true, effective reform were rejected. The bill that passed out of Committee by a 13-10 vote will do nothing to alleviate the financial burden of health care costs or raise the standard of care. This flawed bill will cost U.S. taxpayers over $1 trillion and will place a massive financial burden on Georgia and other states to pay for a proposed 50 percent expansion of Medicaid eligibility.
I believe that the government-run “public option” plan included will end up decreasing choice and quality for consumers. It also will place the federal government in unfair competition with private health insurers and managed care providers: It will be impossible for private entities to compete fairly with the government that regulates them, taxes them and is exempt from having to pay taxes itself. I also oppose a mandate that would require employers with more than 25 workers to provide insurance or pay a penalty. I believe that provision would force many small businesses to eliminate jobs.
With a likely cost of more than $1 trillion, I am disappointed that the Senate Committee rejected several amendments designed to reduce frivolous medical lawsuits. Such lawsuits drive up health care costs by forcing physicians to purchase expensive malpractice policies and practice defensive medicine by ordering wasteful tests and procedures.
This bill will also expand the number of individuals eligible for Medicaid by allowing individuals earning up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible for full Medicaid benefits. Currently, Medicaid is available to only those who earn up to 100 percent of the poverty level, meaning that the new plan represents a 50 percent increase in Medicaid. When Medicaid was first created in 1968, Georgia’s total Medicaid spending was nearly $7.7 million, or 1 percent of all state spending. In 2008, Georgia’s total Medicaid spending was over $2.4 billion, or 12 percent of all state spending. This new proposal would cost Georgia and other states billions of additional dollars to meet the 50 percent increase for their required share of Medicaid costs.
I believe the key to health care reform is stimulating competition in a market-based system that encourages private health insurers and managed care providers to compete for business and make health insurance more affordable for consumers. There is some common ground between Republicans and Democrats in terms of insurance portability and not being rejected for pre-existing conditions or cancelled for a disease. The best way to reach these goals, however, is through the private sector.
I propose to strengthen the relationship between patient and doctors by using choice and competition, rather than health care rationing and restriction, to contain costs and ensure affordable health care for all Americans. These are the ideals I would like to see in any serious health care reform legislation.
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) wrote this commentary for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (September 25, 2009). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.