The Spectrum - Matheson, Dew Diverge on Health Care
Amid talk of a recession, policy-makers have some difficult decisions to make regarding the health care industry in the near future, and U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and his opponent in this year's election, Republican Bill Dew, each have different ideas on how to improve the system.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. is the only wealthy, industrialized nation without universal health care, yet the country spends more on health care, per capita, than any other nation in the world.
With economic issues foremost on peoples' minds this election season, and more than 15 percent of the nation's gross domestic product spent on health care, both candidates said the system should be reevaluated.
Dew's take on health care mirrors his take on most other issues - let the free-market system step in, and limit government involvement, which he blames for the current financial circumstances surrounding health care.
"If you socialize health care, the quality would go down substantially," he said. "Private enterprise does a much better job of providing quality health care."
Dew said health care should revolve around the decisions made between a doctor and a patient. He said there were a lot of good ideas for government-run programs, but the country simply cannot afford them.
"There are a lot of good programs out there," he said. "I'm concerned about the cost. We cannot continue to get into debt."
Matheson, meanwhile, said he wants to explore programs where expansion could be useful, such as the Children's Health Insurance Program - S-CHIP - he fought to expand, a program that insures children who otherwise would be without, but was vetoed by President Bush because it moved away from private coverage. Matheson credits a 33 percent reduction in the rate of uninsured children from 1997 to 2005 to S-CHIP and said he would support efforts to renew and expand the program without adding to the deficit.
"I think that's a measure that's going to be front and center," he said.
Matheson said there are three fundamental issues to deal with regarding health care - access, cost and quality.
Regarding access, he said 47 million Americans are still without health insurance, and "that's a thing we all pay for in the end."
Yet costs continue to skyrocket, he said.
"Costs continue to grow at a rate greater than inflation every year, and that we've got to have a discussion about -- whether our health care can be more efficient and productive," he said.
Part of the answer could include better incentives for health care providers to keep track of information electronically, he said, which would improve quality and limit mistakes.
"Over 70 percent of all errors in hospitals" happen because of incorrect dosage or drugs being given to a patient because of a lack of information sharing, Matheson said.
"That shouldn't be happening, and there are controls we could put in through technology that could control some of those errors," he said.
Dew said tax incentives are fine, but lower taxes overall would be the key. He was adamant in suggesting a free market approach to health care, where patients would have a choice and flexibility not driven by the federal government.
"One thing we need to do is make it so health care becomes more competitive and people can find the best price and best value," he said. "Right now, you just go in and they say how much it costs and you just do it."
Throughout his campaign, Dew has advocated that a healthy economy would solve many of the county's existing ills, and his answer on health care is similar - if people were in good shape financially, their health care would improve.
"A good economy will go a long way to solve a great many problems," he said.
Tax cuts proposed by President Bush passed in 2001 and 2003, but they are scheduled to expire in 2009, Dew said. Those cuts effected income and investment taxes, cut estate taxes and the marriage penalty, and increased the child tax credit. Dew said he fears that if Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress rolled back those cuts, it could be devastating to the economy.
"Our focus has to be on making sure those tax cuts are permanent," he said.
Locally, the health care system is under review through a task force organized by Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.
Matheson said he is encouraged by the governor's move and said solutions for health care are better off when they're designed at the state level.
"We have a good legislature, good government," he said. "Lets see what they come up with, and let them implement it."