WASHINGTON — As congressional Democrats begin work on President Obama’s demand that the American health-care system be reformed, Republicans in Congress are having their own say.
On May 20, four congressional Republicans introduced the Patients’ Choice Act of 2009, a new proposal for health-care reform supported by many Republicans in Congress who oppose Obama’s plan to create a new public health insurance plan.
“As a practicing physician, I have seen firsthand how giving government more control over health care has failed to make health care more affordable and accessible,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who, along with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Rep. Paul Ryan, R.-Wis., and Rep. Devin Nunes, R.-Calif., is responsible for the Patients’ Choice Act.
“The American health-care system needs a complete transformation,” said Burr. “The Patients’ Choice Act will enable Americans to own their health care instead of being trapped in the current system, which leaves people either uninsured, dependent on their employer, or forced into a government program.”
“The Patients’ Choice Act embraces several ideas that meet my goals of lowering health-care costs and expanding access to health care,” Baucus said. “Where I part ways with this proposal is in eliminating the tax incentives for employer-provided health-care benefits, which would destroy the employer-based health-care system we have today.”
The sponsors of the Republicans’ Patients’ Choice Act, however, say that Americans will be able to keep their current employer-based insurance. By giving tax credits directly to individuals rather than to employers, they claim, the new legislation would allow people the freedom to either purchase private health insurance coverage or use the credit to pay for their existing employee premium.
“We want to be able to maintain the employer-based health-care option, but also work to build a system that is more adaptable to the 21st-century workplace,” said Josh Martin, health policy director for Burr. “People are changing jobs and careers much more frequently. If you decide to switch jobs, or are facing a layoff, you shouldn’t have to worry about losing your benefits.”
Under the Patients’ Choice Act, all taxpayers would receive a tax credit to be used to purchase private health insurance, approximately $2,300 for individuals, $5,700 for families.
Non-taxpayers would be given the same amount to purchase their own private health insurance, funded by reforms to Medicare and Medicaid proposed in the bill.
Additional assistance would be offered to Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program recipients to help pay their out-of-pocket costs.
The Republican sponsors claim that no tax increases would be necessary to pay for the Patients’ Choice Act health-care reforms.
Burr’s press secretary, David Ward, said the act was created as a direct response to the high cost of health care that leaves many Americans without insurance. “Meeting the health-care needs of all Americans, including the millions who are currently uninsured, is a major goal of the Republican Party,” he said.
Democrats hope to pass their own health-care reform this summer. Both of the committees charged with writing health-care legislation, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, were negotiating on parts of the plan in early June. Many health-care advocates, including John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, are concerned that the Democrats will establish a new government-sponsored public health-care plan.
Brehany believes that any new public health-care plan would, like Social Security and Medicare, prove too expensive for taxpayers to sustain long term and might also make it impossible for private health-care plans to compete with the government option. “It would leave patients without the ability to make their own informed decisions about the amount and type of health-care services provided,” he said.
The Catholic Medical Association is concerned about the possibility of abortion, sterilization and euthanasia becoming publicly funded benefits under a new government plan.
“It is important for people to be able to choose health-care plans and services that reflect their values, and a public plan could make that more difficult,” said Brehany.
The U.S. bishops, as a whole, support universal access to health care, said Kathy Saile, director of domestic social development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The bishops have not weighed in on whether a new public health plan should be created or how it should be financed,” said Saile. “Many people think that universal health care will be difficult to achieve without a public plan option.”
In a recent letter to members of Congress, Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Social Justice and Human Development of the bishops’ conference, called health care “a social good” and reiterated the bishops’ support for health-care reform.
“The moral measure of any health-care reform proposal is whether it offers affordable and accessible health care to all, beginning with those most in need,” said Bishop Murphy. “This can be a matter of life or death, of dignity or deprivation.”
“Everyone is concerned about the high cost of health care and those who are without adequate health care,” said Brehany. “The Republicans have not addressed all the problems with this new bill, but parts of this proposal have the potential to play a role in providing a long-term solution.”
It is unclear how much support can be garnered for the new Republican proposal, with the Democrats in control of Congress, but the sponsors of the Patients’ Choice Act say they are reaching out to colleagues across the aisle and hoping to gain bipartisan support for their proposed reforms.
Nicole Callahan writes from
Durham, North Carolina.