Time for Choosing Between Health Care Visions By Josh Trent The economy remains the primary issue for most voters in this year’s presidential campaign, yet few realize how closely connected it is to health care policy. In fact, the winner of the White House will likely determine whether health policy will encourage future economic growth or become an economic millstone. Today’s health sector accounts for one-sixth of the economy. Government funds two-thirds of health spending, and one third of Americans rely on a government health program. Without significant policy changes, economists predict health spending will erode real wages, gobble up tax revenues, and balloon the federal debt. Consider the facts. First, Medicare’s unfunded liabilities total $37 trillion. The funding gap is enormous: roughly 15 times larger than all federal taxes collected annually. Even the near-term outlook is concerning: the program’s actuary says Medicare may be unable to pay its bills five years from now. Second, even if Medicaid does not have to be expanded under the health law as the Supreme Court ruled , the program strains state budgets. As a result, governors are being forced to reduce funding for other state priorities such as education. Furthermore, taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth: Medicaid patients can access 40 percent fewer doctors and have poorer health outcomes than other patients. Third, health care premiums continue to increase faster than workers’ wages. Government estimators project costs will climb even higher due to President Obama’s health care law. The presidential candidates’ responses to the facts differs greatly. President Obama has doubled down on his controversial and costly health law, pledging the law’s full implementation –even though it remains deeply unpopular and fails to meet most of the goals articulated by its supporters. On Medicare, the President has ignored –even ridiculed –five bipartisan plans that would save the program. Rather than prevent insolvency, he has embraced price controls, raided Medicare to fund new programs, and punted cost-containment to a panel of unelected bureaucrats who will reduce senior’s access to physicians because of plummeting reimbursements. In stark contrast, Governor Romney has a bold plan to reduce costs, curb spending, and save Medicare. Romney pledges sustainable reform to ensure Americans with pre-existing conditions gain access to health coverage. Romney’s plan also uses consumer choices and provider competition to restrain spending and save Medicare. Americans with insurance would benefit from smart solutions like ending tax discrimination against those who purchase their own insurance, or malpractice reforms. Polls show his policy proposals enjoy wide support from Americans. A few Democrats quietly admit his approach to Medicare is a likely starting point for eventual compromises to save the program. But, in an election year, most resort to demagoging it for political gain. Romney would also reapply the Constitution’s design for states by empowering governors to manage Medicaid programs without burdensome mandates from Washington. No doubt, the next President will be faced with many tough choices, among which will be how to reduce spending while preserving Medicare and Medicaid for future generations. President Obama offers more of the same: a government-centric approach yielding higher premiums and fewer choices, greater debt and spending, and an insolvent Medicare program. Governor Romney’s plan will keep our government’s commitments to the elderly and poor, while fostering innovation and lowering costs through sustainable reforms. The time to choose is near. For this voter, the choice is clear. Josh Trent served in the White House and at HHS in the George W. Bush Administration. He currently serves as a health care policy staffer in the U.S. Senate.
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