By Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), M.D.
With much fanfare and political wrangling on Capitol Hill, the signature domestic policy initiative of President Barack Obama’s administration – health care – has been signed into law. From the very beginning of this debate, individuals of good faith on both sides of the political divide shared a common goal of expanding health coverage to more Americans. However, there were many of us who opposed the Democrat health plan and firmly believe that the ultimate package was fundamentally flawed and failed to meet American principles of reform.
Foremost among the missed opportunities: addressing the rising cost of health care and health insurance. These issues are not significantly addressed in the new law. Third-party, non-partisan estimates done by the Congressional Budget Office confirm that the price of health care and insurance premiums will continue to rise under the new Obama health plan. In fact, CBO determined premiums for those without employer-provided insurance would see an increase of 10 to 13 percent.
There are many factors that contribute to this failure to bend the cost curve downward. Some are created by the new law – namely new restrictions on the type of insurance offered, taxes on innovative medical equipment, and maintaining barriers to shopping for insurance across state lines.
Another key contributor to rising health care costs is something almost entirely ignored in the expansive law – lawsuit abuse reform. No realistic plan to lower the cost of health care will succeed unless we have the common sense to come to terms with the cost of defensive medicine. A recent Gallup survey of American physicians found that 21 percent of all tests and treatments ordered by doctors were done to mitigate the threat of frivolous lawsuits. That equates to 26 percent of all health care dollars or $650 billion annually obligated to the practice of defensive medicine. It is a staggering sum that we should all agree is a gross misallocation of time and money.
Under the new health care law, lawsuit abuse reform is all but ignored. The plan allows for study of the issue through so-called demonstration projects. But most any physician, myself included, who has spent time caring for patients, understands that we do not need more study. We need action.
One positive avenue of medical liability reform is to establish a new system equipped to handle the unique nature of medical malpractice cases. We have introduced just such a plan in the HealthCOURT Act (H.R. 3372). This is a two-pronged approach that would first create a nationally recognized set of best-practice standards to provide an affirmative legal defense for practicing physicians. The guidelines would be set by physicians, not bureaucrats, and focused on ensuring the highest quality of care. Should specific cases require litigation, this bill would assist states in launching new health courts tasked with resolving disputes – first by an expert panel’s recommendation and then ultimately a health care tribunal if the issue is not settled. It is important from a constitutional standpoint, however, to note that nothing in this approach would deny individuals from seeking further appeal to a state court.
Clearly, it is not just defensive medicine that drives up health care costs and insurance premiums. But it is extremely troubling that the legislation just signed into law ignores billions in annual health care dollars that could be saved or put to better use. What a remarkable missed opportunity. It was one of many in this bill.
From the very beginning, many of my colleagues and I objected strenuously to a strategy for health reform that vested too much control and decision-making power in Washington at the expense of patients and their doctors. By assuming a government-focused foundation for reform, the current law will, unfortunately and predictably, undermine long-term efforts to expand quality care while adding to an already untenable budgetary crisis in our nation.
The new health care law will ultimately cost future generations much more than it will save them. Tackling lawsuit abuse reform as a part of this broad package would have been one tangible avenue to reduce the cost of health care for families, physicians, and the federal government while protecting the quality of care for patients. We should not continue to ignore this clear and positive solution.
Rep. Price is a physician and Chairman of the Republican Study Committee