Changing the Conversation

The contrast between modern consumer-oriented ideas to reform the health care system and tired centralized-control models came into sharp contrast again this week.

Senator Ted Kennedy, sadly, is dredging up failed ideas from the past. He said in a National Press Club speech in Washington on Wednesday that the federal government should mandate that all companies with more than 100 employees must provide health insurance to their workers.

The threat of an employer mandate was one of the death-knells of ClintonCare in 1994. Millions of employers do provide health insurance or added compensation because they want to do the right thing, but for some, these added and rising costs can make the difference between success and failure of the business. As long as they can provide the benefit voluntarily, the great majority will do so. But this government dictate will never fly.

Right now, workers and employers are negotiating creative ways to give consumers more control over decisions and choices while helping to keep costs down. These innovations would never work under the thumb of government controls.

It’s time for a change. For at least a decade, Washington political leaders have told us how terrible our health care system is. The message has gotten through. When I speak with Europeans, they believe we are just short of barbarians and are astonished to learn that we don’t actually leave people to bleed in the streets if they don’t have health insurance.

The truth is that the United States still offers the world’s best quality and most innovative health care. The change we need is to find creative new ways to get health coverage to millions of Information Age workers who are shut out of the system by antiquated Industrial Age policies.

AMA President Dr. Richard Corlin talks about the quality of the American health care system in a column about his recent personal experience with emergency medical care for a growth in his lung.

“Every doctor, nurse and health professional I dealt with was kind, caring and – above all – competent. And my health insurance paid for all of that first-rate care. My positive experience with everyday American medicine has given me an insight into correcting the issue of the uninsured. And that is, most of our health care delivery system is working very well, and should not be discarded under the guise of correcting the problems of the uninsured or any other aspects of health care that need our attention,” he writes.

“Most prior efforts to insure the uninsured have failed because the desire has been to replace everything in our system with something new and untried. This scares off the large majority for whom the system works well. I think I always understood this lesson at an intellectual level. Now, through my own experience, I know it at a very personal and emotional level as well,” he says.

This may signal an important shift in the AMA. Thanks to former AMA president and our valued colleague, Dr. Stormy Johnson, for alerting us to the column.

It is time to change the conversation. No more talk of tired, centralized, government-dominated “solutions.” Let’s celebrate what’s good about the American health care system and lead the way in getting as close as we can to universal coverage by utilizing private-sector and consumer creativity.

And finally, to show that the private sector is mobilizing to meet consumer needs, Pfizer introduced this week a new plan called the Share Card to help low-income seniors get access to the company’s drugs. Seniors below 200% of poverty with no drug coverage can get a month’s supply of any prescription for just $15. The company is providing its drugs and creating this program to help seniors right now while Congress is mired in the politics of a Medicare drug benefit.

For the full column by Dr. Corlin:

Grace-Marie Turner

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit research organization focusing on ideas to promote free-market health reform. She can be reached at P.O. Box 19080, Alexandria, VA, 22320.

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