Single payer healthcare:
If you are a fan of westerns, you are probably familiar with the snake oils peddler. During my time in Congress, I have seen a lot of similarity between single-payer healthcare activists (those seeking the establishment of socialized medicine) and those peddler's of the 19th Century who claimed to have miracle cures to all of our problems.
The U.S. didn't buy the miracle cure
The snake oils peddlers sold their miracle cure of socialized medicine throughout Europe and the rest of the developed world. The United States has admirably, and in sharp contrast, maintained a basic commitment to the free-market and consumer choice in healthcare. As a result, the advanced nature of healthcare in the United States is the envy of the world, and our friends in Europe and other developed nations are looking for ways to bring the private sector back. In short, socialized medicine has failed to meet its lofty goals and the miracle cure didn't work.
An experiment that failed
Despite a commitment to achieving universal healthcare in the United Kingdom (U.K.), there are hundreds of private hospitals and a variety of private health insurance plans operating in the country today. These plans give patients the reassurance of knowing they will be treated promptly and wont be forced to wait on long lists. Lengthy delays in both diagnosis and treatment are commonplace throughout single-payer healthcare systems and are a source of considerable frustration among those who need care. The National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K. recognizes the importance of early treatment but has been unable to resolve the problem of wait lists. Indeed, the current NHS goal is to ensure that patients wait no longer than 13 weeks for outpatient care or six months for hospital based care.
The stark truth that many single-payer activists like to ignore
One common myth associated with socialized medicine is that it will improve our nation's overall health. The stark truth contained in publicly available reports refute such a claim. Death rates from curable conditions are significantly higher in single-payer systems. For example, breast and colorectal cancer patients under treatment have a significantly higher mortality rate in the U.K. and the rest of Europe. In addition, the five year survival rate for all cancers in the U.K. is 35.9%. In the United States the survival rate is 66% over the same period. While some improvements have been made in recent years, there is no solution to rationing of care under the single-payer model.
Across the spectrum of treatable medical conditions, single payer healthcare fails to provide the service and cutting edge medicine needed to save lives. Canada, for example, has fewer MRI machines per capita than countries in Latin America.
Medical science and common sense tell us that the speed of diagnosis and treatment directly impact survival rates. Under single-payer healthcare schemes, sick men, women, and children suffer on waiting lists and die due to these shortcomings. These facts are not subject to debate and are an increasing embarrassment to European countries facing growing discontent among their citizens.
Lesson learned; the return of private healthcare
Countries with socialized medicine today are moving away from mandatory single-payer healthcare. They have learned the hard way that the miracle cure of government intervention doesn't work. In almost every European country, reforms have begun to allow private healthcare to enter the market. In the U.K. private plans are flourishing, as consumers seek to find alternatives to the substandard care forced on them by bureaucrats and politicians. In Canada, the Supreme Court has ruled that access to government waiting lists is not the same as access to healthcare and that private health coverage may not be banned.
In short, looking backward towards socialism is not the solution to our healthcare challenges. The utopia of single-payer or universal healthcare is simply not real.
It is interesting to note that not a single country in the world with single-payer healthcare has established a "right" to healthcare. In Canada, you don't even have a right to wait in line for healthcare. If you are listed as the 50th person in line for heart surgery, you do not have a right to be the 50th person treated.
Competition and choice: healthcare in the United States
Critics of the American healthcare model often point to large numbers of uninsured men, women and children as a significant factor in their desire for government intervention. Before I continue, it is important for me to note that despite our advanced system of healthcare, there are a significant number of people who are uninsured. Most of them are young (under age 30) and relatively healthy. However, the positive benefit of health insurance is universally recognized and it is important for our government to enact policies that encourage coverage.
Many Americans are caught in situations where they do not have access to employer-sponsored health insurance, earn too much income for government assistance, and yet are unable to purchase private insurance due to high costs. This is the unfortunate consequence of good-intentions gone wrong through over-regulation. It is also a characteristic of a system overwhelmed by litigation. While Republicans have a large number of free-market options that would alleviate these challenges, the current political environment has made real progress difficult.
Does competition and choice work?
We have witnessed significant savings in our healthcare system when government empowers consumer choice and private sector competition. A recent example of this relates to the Medicare prescription drug program. In 2003, Congress created Medicare Part D. It requires private health insurance companies to compete for senior participation and allows plans to offer a range of benefits to reflect the diverse needs of our population. Thanks to competition among Medicare drug plans, seniors are saving money. In addition, the overall cost of the program is 25% less than projected.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a significant group of Americans who lack basic health insurance. In addition, we are witnessing a growing discontent among the general public concerning the cost of healthcare and there is a lot of pressure on government to "do something about it." Unfortunately, for many in the new Congressional majority, "do something about it" means enrolling more people in government programs.
Politicians and activists have made the false diagnosis that rising healthcare costs stem from the greed of healthcare companies. This misperception ignores compelling evidence that government intervention and lawsuits are far more significant factors. Frivolous lawsuits alone cost Americans more than $60 billion per year.
Helping or hurting?
Federal and state elected leaders have legislated our nation into a situation where consumers are forced to pay higher premiums for health insurance coverage that ignores individual needs. All told, there are more than 1,500 health insurance benefit mandates across the United States. These laws range from basic coverage mandates and dispute resolution to mandatory coverage for acupuncture and various alternative medicine therapies.
Some in Congress, including myself, are working to expand choice in healthcare. We want to reduce costs by streamlining regulations, and end the abuse of our courts by trial lawyers. With these reforms, the United States will continue to experience amazing advances in medicine made possible by free-market innovation. However, maintaining the best global healthcare system in the world requires us to avoid the miracle cure fraud related to government directed healthcare. We must work to reduce government intervention, not increase it.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
There is no federal law mandating health insurance coverage by employers in the United States. Such a law, which would further shift the responsibility of healthcare away from individuals to third parties, would do nothing to address the affordability of health insurance in our country today. It is a gimmick not a solution. Proponents of mandatory insurance coverage have also promoted national health insurance through a single payer system. Instead of dealing with the regulatory and legal crisis facing our nation's health system, these proposals seek to add new layers of federal mandates.
To address the problem of the uninsured, it is essential that market based insurance opportunities be made more affordable and greater options be given to individuals. Men and women seeking insurance in the open-market are constrained by a patchwork of laws and regulations impacting coverage. Indeed, there are more than 1,500 widely diverse mandates that range from naturopathic medicine to acupuncture. These well intentioned but cost inflating policies have contributed to the high cost of health insurance today.
Congress has pursued a number of initiatives to expand insurance opportunities to the uninsured. One approach was to establish Health Savings Accounts (HSA). These IRA styled, tax exempt savings accounts give more choices to consumers by reducing tax liabilities and encouraging savings to offset health related expenses. Funds can be drawn from HSA accounts to pay for insurance or other health expenses on a tax free basis. This may be particularly attractive to healthy young Americans, who can purchase catastrophic health insurance at a low rate and use their HSA for high deductibles or co-pays. The vast majority of those currently signing up for HSA's were previously uninsured.
Under Republican leadership, the House also passed legislation authorizing Association Health Plans (AHP), which would enable business and professional associations to offer health benefits to their members. As such, an association would enjoy the marketing efficiencies of large organizations and would be better able to negotiate competitive health coverage. Small businesses, sole proprietors and other groups of traditionally underserved employees could have better insurance choices as a result.