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Burgess: Study What Policies Are Working

I just want to figure out what works,— President Barack Obama said during the recent White House forum on health care. Many leaders have centered their health care reform discussion on a “new— government-option insurance. Medicare and Medicaid are the current government-sponsored health care options. They are not new, and many people, myself included, would argue that there is certainly room for improvement. I would hardly call them the model for reform.

Medicine in America is constantly changing and constantly evolving. With the return of a Democrat to the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, references are being made to the attempts at reform 15 years ago. While much of the rhetoric is identical — and apparently many of the personalities are as well — the problems today are significantly different.

Back then, cost was not as great a concern as coverage, but I doubt that is true today given the current economic circumstances. Furthermore, no one talked about the burdens placed on the system by illegal immigrants, but until the federal government deals with issues surrounding this population, the problem will be difficult, if not impossible, to solve.

I am encouraged, however, by the president’s observation that he would like to learn from what works. Medicine is evidence-based and disciplined, so why shouldn’t health care policy be based on the same principles?

We should closely examine the Massachusetts experience with individual mandates, both the good and bad. We also need to study what Wal-Mart has done, where according to recent reports, the company has achieved 95 percent coverage for its employees. Who has a model for what works — the mandates in Massachusetts, or Wal-Mart, with freedom to choose affordable options? A combination? Or is it none of the above?

Obama also told the group at the White House health care forum that the only thing he won’t accept is the status quo. There is certainly nothing static about medicine in America. During the almost 25 years I practiced medicine, things changed dramatically and have continued to change even since I ended my practice in 2002. Leaders in 1993 may have believed that nationalized, mandated health care would work, but medicine is dramatically different and what might have worked then may not work today.

While I am cautiously optimistic, I am also concerned that Obama’s good-willed gestures of bipartisanship and inclusion are falling on deaf ears. Too much is at stake for the majority to abuse the legislative process by following what has become the trajectory of the past two years: bills written behind closed doors in the Speaker’s office an¸d pushed through largely along party-line votes.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the projected price tag of a government-sponsored overhaul of health care — more than $600 billion, which Obama has called simply a “down payment.— This is on top of the $1.2 trillion Congress has already authorized in 2009, plus the rest of Obama’s budget proposal — $3.6 trillion. And we’ve also begun to hear whispers of a second “stimulus.—

At a time when families and businesses all across America are tightening their belts, Congress is on an unprecedented spending spree. Someone please explain that to me — and my constituents, for that matter.

But back to what works. When I was a practicing physician, I had patients with the best private health insurance available as well as patients with Medicare and Medicaid. I have seen what works and what doesn’t. Like our president, I want to figure out what will work, and I am an eager and willing participant to help in drafting our country’s health care reform legislation.

Another government-run health insurance plan — what Obama and Congressional Democrats propose — is a recycled example of something that, I believe, simply won’t work for our country. The “public option,— as it has been called, isn’t much of an option at all because it will lead businesses to withdraw employee-provided coverage, leaving Americans with fewer choices.

There is no doubt about it — the 21st century has already been a transformational period in medicine. I envy the thousands of young physicians who are just beginning their careers today. New technology and scientific discoveries are bringing innovations within reach that the medical world once only dreamed of. Congress must not stifle this innovation. We have a duty to foster an environment in which health care is allowed to flourish — where innovation is made possible.

The federal government must not endeavor to change the way health care is delivered. Bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., must not be allowed to second-guess my colleagues in the medical community in an effort to save a few dollars or cents. Americans deserve a health care solution based on transformations and not transactions — one that will work.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) practiced medicine in North Texas for more than 25 years before being elected to Congress in 2002. He is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its Subcommittee on Health, and he recently founded and is chairman of the House Health Care Caucus.

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