By Congressman Thomas Price
According to the Medicare Trustees themselves, Medicare will crumble under its own unsustainable design and take America's fiscal well-being down with it in a few short years. This fact has led some of us in Congress to offer solutions to save and preserve the program for current and future retirees. Others have chosen to demagogue any reasonable solution to this and our larger spending-driven debt crisis.
Throughout the debate over how to reform America's health care system last year, two competing visions emerged. One saw the government as the best arbiter of health care decisions with Washington bureaucrats capable of making the smartest health care choices for patients and doctors. Then there were those of us in the other camp. Equally dismayed by the broken status quo of America's health care system, we offered a vision of patient-centered solutions that would create greater choices and empower individuals to make decisions with their doctor and family.
Those of us who champion patient-centered reforms share the American people's outrage at the manner in which ObamaCare was passed. We are fighting to repeal it and replace it with positive solutions. One such solution is to provide America's seniors with greater choice and flexibility of care.
The Medicare Patient Empowerment Act offers Medicare beneficiaries the freedom to contract with their doctor for items and services unencumbered by the confining rules of the Medicare system. This would mean that physicians and patients could contract for services at market rates without physicians being consequently barred from participation in Medicare for two years. With many doctors cutting back on the number of Medicare patients they will accept due to government reductions in payment, private contracting would provide Medicare beneficiaries with broader access to physicians. Under the plan, seniors would see no cut back in their Medicare benefits.
This is a common-sense solution for seniors who find it difficult to gain access to the services they need or a physician willing to accept Medicare patients. A survey of 9,000 doctors by the American Medical Association found that 17 percent limit the number of Medicare patients they accept. That number jumps to 31 percent among primary care physicians. Just as we need to advance choice and flexibility in care, we must break down barriers keeping physicians from being able to treat seniors on Medicare - including the continued threat of cuts to payments for services and burdensome regulations.
Those more interested in realizing a political advantage by scaring seniors and launching partisan attacks will no doubt try to spread fear and mischaracterize the Medicare Patient Empowerment Act just as they have done with the larger effort to reform Medicare. Rather than peddle inaccurate critiques, they should offer real solutions of their own that will have a similar effect of empowering seniors and protecting the program. At the very least, they should halt the shameless accusations that physicians would naturally see the ability to contract with their patients as an opportunity to simply exploit seniors. Such accusations demonstrate their glaring misunderstanding about the need for this type of flexibility in the current Medicare system to create choices and make it possible for doctors to continue treating Medicare patients. It also displays a particularly cynical view about those who have taken an oath to heal and care for the sick.
Current and future seniors deserve better than a Medicare system that refuses to answer to their needs and will soon be unreliable and unsustainable for our nation. The Medicare Patient Empowerment Act would expand choices and flexibility for today's seniors so that they may exercise greater control over their personal health care decision-making.
Price, a Republican Congressman from Georgia, is a former, practicing orthopaedic surgeon. He sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and Budget Committee and serves as Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.