Healthcare answers already exist, we need only to act

side note: Healthcare reform is necessary, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of doctors, hospitals and patients. We should make sure that Congress acts in the best interest of all three of these, b/c we need them all for national healthcare to work.

BY MARY GREALY
Chicago Sun Times

Recently, a member of Congress said to me, very frankly and with not a small amount of frustration in his voice, “If we could just get rid of the government health plan option proposal, we could pass a health reform bill tomorrow.”

I have absolutely no doubt the congressman is correct. For all of the focus on the controversial aspects of health reform, there is bipartisan support behind most of the components that would make up a very good bill that would bring higher quality and greater affordability to American health care.

That raises the question: Is the insistence on a government-run health insurance plan worth putting health reform at risk?

It would be a tragedy to squander the political will that exists today to improve the health system. Right now, bipartisan majorities could pass a bill that would eliminate pre-existing conditions as a barrier to health insurance, bring everyone into the system to reduce costs for all, provide financial assistance to help low-income Americans afford coverage, invest more resources in wellness and disease prevention and change our health care payment and delivery system to ensure that patients are getting the right care at the right time.

All of these much-needed gains go nowhere, though, if Congress can’t get past the current partisan and ideological deadlock on the government plan option.

And here’s the irony: The government plan concept, which some insist must be the centerpiece of health reform, would do more to harm, rather than help, patients, physicians and hospitals.

One of the major arguments proponents make for bringing the federal government into the health care marketplace is that government can provide health coverage at significantly less cost than private insurance plans. But how would they do it?

There is, indeed, a significant difference between public programs such as Medicare or Medicaid and private coverage. A private plan negotiates with doctors and hospitals on a fair payment rate. The government simply tells health providers what they’re going to get.

The problem is government programs pay most hospitals and doctors less than the actual cost of health care. In 2007, Medicare and Medicaid payments fell $32 billion short of paying hospitals what it actually costs to care for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Someone has to make up that shortfall, and that burden is being placed on the backs of families and individuals with private insurance. A study last December by the respected Milliman economic analysis firm concluded that the annual health care bill for the average family of four is about $1,800 higher because private insurance has to help hospitals and doctors cover Medicare’s and Medicaid’s underpayments. It’s easy to declare government health programs more “efficient” when that efficiency comes at the expense of health care consumers.

What happens when government creates a “cheaper” health insurance alternative and, as studies have projected, 70 million Americans or more drop their private insurance and jump on the government plan? Already, many community hospitals are facing severe difficulties, in large part because of government underpayments, and more doctors each year are refusing to accept new Medicare patients.

Read the full article at the Chicago Sun Times