By John T. Gill, MD
As an orthopaedic surgeon in private practice for over 21 years, I have seen firsthand how decisions in both Washington and our state capitols can directly impact my ability to take care of patients. It is essential that physicians take an active role in developing effective health policy and the key to that is maintaining a close working relationship with your elected members of the legislature.
Since a chance visit to my state capitol in 1999 ended up with my giving testimony on a health care bill at a Senate hearing, I have vowed to keep showing up and keep telling my story. This was never more evident than in the landmark Tort Reform legislation passed in Texas in 2003. Working through my professional associations as well as one on one with key legislative leaders, I was able to play a significant role in moving that legislation into law.
With the health care debate heating up several months ago it became clear that the most important group was being left out of the debate, the group most equipped to offer practical, commons sense reform idea – physicians. Thankfully, I was not the only one who saw the need for an outlet where physicians and lawmakers could come together and discuss what real health care reform means.
Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) and the National Republican Congressional Committee, chaired by Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) formed the Physicians Council for Responsible Reform (PCRR). With Congressman Price, a fellow orthopaedic surgeon, as the chairman and ten Republican physician Members of Congress as Co-Chairs — (John Boozman (R-AR), Charles W. Boustany (R-LA), Paul Broun (R-GA), Michael Burgess (R-TX), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), John Fleming (R-LA), Phil Gingery (R-GA), Tim Murphy (R-PA), Phil Roe (R-TN), and Mike Simpson (R-ID)) — we are reaching out to physicians all across the country to get their input on what health care reform measures will improve, rather than hinder, the quality of care they are able to give to their patients.
Congressman Price and the PCRR co-chairs engage in monthly conference calls where members are able to offer input and ask questions about the current state of health care legislation. We have held two Washington, D.C. based events to date where members were able to meet and speak with Members of Congress, Health Legislative Assistants, policy experts, and each other. The ideas that have been generated as a result of these discussions are helping to shape the Republican plan for health care reform which is why we will continue to hold events not only in Washington, D.C. but regionally across the country.
While PCRR is comprised solely of physicians, its reach goes far beyond its actual members. Patients trust physicians more than any other group when it comes to health care decisions. We continuously ask our members to share the information we give them with their patients. Doctors must be an instrumental part of educating the American people about the truths regarding health care reform.
The average American does not understand why it is essential that tort reform be included in any health care reform plan, which is why we encourage our members to talk to their patients, hand out informational sheets if they feel comfortable doing so, and be a loud voice in this debate.
PCRR’s mission statement is comprised of seven goals, which are to:
1) Clarify the real problems in American health care, devoid of demagoguery, scare tactics, and politicking.
2) Expose the faults, dangers, and inadequacies of the most egregious reform plans being offered, including the very real threat of government bureaucrats intervening more and more in the doctor-patient relationship.
3) Offer common sense solutions to the real problems faced by health care practitioners, including such vital but often overlooked measures as comprehensive medical liability reform, improving health savings accounts, and serious tax incentives for purchasing health insurance.
4) Promote tort reform and address the problems inherent in the medical liability system that contribute to rising health care costs and force doctors to practice “defensive” medicine.
5) Fight to defeat Members of Congress who support “ObamaCare” in the upcoming 2010 elections and to work to get more physicians elected to congress.
6) Provide Washington, D.C. decision makers with real world, firsthand true stories about health care challenges and successes.
7) Educate the public by reminding voters that the American Health Care System provides the highest quality care in the world.
Simply put, we believe that health care reform must occur but we do not believe the answer is the rationing of health care and more government mandates. The decision making power has to be left in the hands of doctors and patients.
The differences that exist between the Democrat and Republican plans are vast. Here are some “highlights” of both plans for comparison:
The Democrats’ idea of reform includes measures like:
- A government-run public plan that would “compete”, on an uneven playing field, in an exchange with “qualified” private insurers subsidized by taxpayer dollars;
- Federal Health Boards that will create a public/private advisory committee that will determine the benefits package and cost-sharing arrangements for public, individual, and employer plans that all Americans must be covered under;
- Employer and individual mandates to purchase health insurance with a tax penalty for those who do not comply.
In contrast, Republicans are proposing ideas such as:
- Establishing Universal Access Programs that will guarantee access to affordable care for those with pre-existing conditions by expanding high risk pools and allowing reinsurance programs;
- Instituting real tort reform modeled after the successful reforms established in California and Texas;
- Providing common sense insurance reforms that would eliminate an insurance company’s ability to drop individuals from their policy after they get sick or put arbitrary caps on annual or lifetime spending;
- Creating small business health plans which would allow small businesses to pool together to bring down costs and increase choices to those covered under those plans;
- Rewarding states for innovation by providing incentive payments to states that come up with innovative and successful was to cover their uninsured;
- Creating portability so that individuals can purchase health insurance across state lines to provide individual ownership so that there is no fear of losing insurance if moving or switching jobs;
- Restricting any federal dollars for the use of abortions;
- Encouraging prevention and wellness by allowing employers greater flexibility to encourage their employees to adopt healthier lifestyles; and
- Expanding the use of health savings accounts (HSAs) to create incentives for individuals of all ages to participate in HSAs for future and long-term health care needs.
With over fifty active health care bills currently in the House of Representatives, Republicans have ideas to bring to the table – ideas being ignored by the Democrat leadership. We would welcome the opportunity to engage in productive, bipartisan discussions on the future of health care in this country. Unfortunately, with the current leadership in place such a discussion is not likely to happen in the coming months, which is why PCRR is fighting to get more physicians elected to Congress in 2010.
We currently have five physicians running and are hopeful that that the number will be close to ten shortly. Our current physician candidate list includes:
- Dr. Larry Buschon (IN – 08), Thoracic Surgeon
- Dr. Nan Hayworth (IN-19), Ophthalmologist
- Dr. Joe Heck (NV-03), Emergency Room Physician
- Dr. Mike Vasovski (SC-03), Osteopathic Medicine
- Dr. Blake Curd (SD-AL), Upper Extremity and General Orthopeadics
As this health care debate rages on PCRR is going to continue to encourage physicians to actively engage in the political process whether it be by running for office, going to their state capitols and to Washington, D.C. to “tell their stories”, developing relationships with their Congressman, or spreading the word amongst their fellow physicians and patients. PCRR believes that the outcome of this battle is far from decided and now is the time to be a voice in the debate that will ultimately impact every physician in America, every patient in America, and the practice of medicine itself.
A private practitioner in Dallas and Chairman of the Texas Healthcare Task Force, Dr. Gill has served as the President of the Texas Orthopaedic Association, the Chairman of the Board of Councilors of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and is currently a member of the AMA House of Delegates. For more information about PCRR, go to www.physicianscouncil.org.