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Op-Ed: Reform That Protects Choice And The Workers


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Everyone in Congress believes the issues of portability, pre-existing conditions, increasing costs and rescinding coverage must be addressed. However, in doing so, we must also protect a patient's right to choose the best coverage for him or herself in a vibrant, competitive marketplace and not force Americans into a one-size-fits-all government-run program.

Healthcare reform must reduce instead of increase federal spending and it must not force employers to cut jobs.

There are ways to do this, as I and many of my colleagues have repeatedly suggested to congressional leadership.

I cosponsored a bill that would provide real reform, but House leadership has not allowed a vote on it. It includes:

* Allowing small businesses to band together to purchase health insurance for employees and use their combined bargaining power to negotiate better health benefits at lower prices.
* Reforming medical liability laws to discourage unnecessary and frivolous lawsuits, which only drive up prices for everyone and force doctors to practice defensive medicine.
* Removing unnecessary regulations that prevent health insurance companies from operating across state lines--which will provide the competition without government-run healthcare.
* Establishing high-risk pools to provide insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.

That is not what the American people received from Congress. Instead, Congress passed--over my repeated objections--a $1 trillion government takeover of healthcare that kills jobs, drives up premiums, increases the deficit and gives the federal government control over life and death issues best left to patients and their doctors.

The ink was barely dry on the law before its dire effects on our already reeling economy became clear.

Student lender Sallie Mae, which employs 700 people at a Muncie, Ind., call center, said the costs of the plan may force it to close the center.

Zoll Medical Corp., which employs about 650 people in Massachusetts, said the law's costs may force it to relocate those jobs overseas.

Seasonal businesses fear a devastating blow. In New Hampshire alone, big ski resorts that hire as many as 500 seasonal workers are facing $1 million in fines.

Companies that had planned to expand are having second thoughts, particularly those with fewer than 50 employees. Once businesses hit 50 employees, the mandates and fines kick in. With fines of $2,000 an employee, it may not pay to create new jobs.

Its impact on state coffers is equally clear. Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supported the healthcare albatross, is having buyer's remorse. The bill's requirement that states place the uninsured on Medicaid will cost California $3 billion a year.

The Associated Press has reported that companies are considering dropping prescription drug coverage for retirees, forcing them into a Medicare plan. This is just the beginning of forcing all Americans into a government-run program.

Middle-class families will take an economic hit as well. An analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed that this law will raise healthcare premiums $2,100 more a year for millions of families than if healthcare had been left alone.

It also confirmed that as many as 9 million people now enrolled in employer-based plans will lose their coverage.

At a time when unemployment is higher than 11 percent in Ventura County and higher than 10 percent in Santa Barbara County, the healthcare law adds $569.2 billion of additional taxes onto the backs of American families and $52 billion on struggling employers.

After a year in which President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should have been focused on creating jobs, they have instead dug an even deeper hole in the American economy.

It is, indeed, an historic achievement.

Now that the healthcare bill has been signed into law, President Barack Obama has said he can finally start focusing on helping businesses create jobs. He can start by repealing this job-killing, deficit-raising, hardship-on-middle-class-families law and replacing it with one that lowers premiums and increases choices and does not harm the economy.

The bill I cosponsored is the basis for real reform that addresses the healthcare needs of America.

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