July 09, 2009

UNIVERSAL WAITING LISTS

Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

"Access to a waiting list is not access to health care"
-Canadian Supreme Court, 2005


Each summer, many people eagerly await the release of the latest blockbuster movies. This summer, many are eagerly anticipating the debate over Congress's summer blockbuster: health care reform. The President and many in Congress are aggressively advocating the creation of a universal health care system and a new federal government insurance company that would ultimately run our health care system. Politicians and Washington bureaucrats would end up making important health care decisions for you. They will decide when, and if, you and your family receive care. They will also decide on your treatment. All you can do is sit back and try to enjoy the show. But beware---this is not the typical summer blockbuster; it's much more suspenseful because it is real and could restrict your family's access to the health care of your choosing.

It is common to hear the European and Canadian health care systems described positively in the news as "universal health care." It is less common to hear about the actual care received---or denied---in such systems. The term "universal health care" has wrongly become synonymous with a good system where everyone receives access to quality care at no cost. In reality, in many countries with universal health care, you often receive access to a waiting list with a cost of much higher taxes.

In Europe and Canada, patients wait for months to receive certain surgeries or treatments. To control costs in the United Kingdom, a government agency essentially decides who receives or does not receive care, depending on cost and patient condition and age. In much of Canada, you can't avoid the waiting lines by paying for private care because it is illegal to charge for care covered by the government plan. Even though Canada's Supreme Court has ruled that access to a waiting list is not access to health care, the waiting lists, rationed care and a lack of patient choice are inevitable and unavoidable with government-run health care.

In America, we need affordable, patient-centered care, where you can get what you need, when you need it. I have co-sponsored S. 391, the Healthy Americans Act, which would guarantee access to private health coverage to all Americans. Individuals who are happy with their current employer-sponsored coverage will have the option to keep it. For those who are not currently covered or would like to change their coverage, the bill provides access to an increased choice of plans. The Healthy Americans Act would grant individuals the freedom to choose the plan that best fits them, rather than choosing from a limited number of employer-sponsored options or a government plan. The Act would guarantee portability of coverage through job changes, job loss, retirement or disability.

In addition, the Congressional Budget Office has shown that S. 391 would save $1.48 trillion over 10 years. The bill focuses on prevention, wellness and disease management, which would further reduce health care costs. While I don't agree with everything contained in the Healthy Americans Act, the message is clear---there are ways to provide quality private coverage to all Americans without resorting to a government takeover, with unavoidable long lines and rationed care.

The goal of health care reform should be to increase affordability, access, quality and choice. Each of these priorities will decrease if the government takes over American health care. For more on my position on health care, go to http://crapo.senate.gov.

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