Doctor-Lawmakers warn against federal health reform plan

From CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

State Reps. Mike Ritze and Doug Cox, the only medical doctors serving in the state Legislature, urged Oklahomans to be wary of the health care “reform” plan being developing in Washington.

“The present medical care system must be improved. Going to a doctor with a simple sore throat and leaving with a bill over $100 is not acceptable – it is putting access to medical care out of reach for many Oklahomans,” said Cox, a Grove Republican who works as an emergency room physician, in a release sent to The City Sentinel. “However, this is a very complicated issue. These problems did not develop overnight yet it seems, as with many issues facing his administration, the President is trying to force a ‘reform’ through Congress in a very rapid manner without sufficient detail regarding long term effects. Health care reform must be addressed, but in a systematic, methodical manner with greater involvement by those who are skilled in delivering care.”

Ritze said the reforms now being advocated by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders are unlikely to improve care or reduce prices.

“The ‘new’ blueprint for health care will fail for the same reason the current system is failing: It violates the basic laws of economics,” said Ritze, a Broken Arrow Republican. “When the apparent price of something goes down, demand goes up.”

Current proposals would have all citizens paying essentially the same amount for coverage, regardless of actual risk and medical need. As a result, Ritze said demand for medical care will skyrocket and the system will be clogged with non-urgent-care patients, displacing those with serious medical conditions and increasing waiting times.

“Collective prepayment drives up demand because healthier citizens feel the need to ‘get their money’s worth’ out of the system,” Ritze said. “Ultimately, that will compound the doctor shortage in states like Oklahoma.”

He noted the number of U.S. medical graduates entering family medicine and internal medicine has fallen by half over the past decade. Ritze said that situation will not improve under a system that prevents pricing that covers actual cost and allows minor profit.

“We’ve already seen how heavy handed government regulation actually reduces access to care,” Ritze said. “About 15 percent of American doctors will not accept Medicaid patients today because of unrealistic price controls and 20 percent will not take new Medicaid patients. The doctors that do take Medicaid patients often lose money because of the extra paperwork costs and low reimbursement. As a result, Medicaid actually drives up the price of insurance for everyone else. It’s a double-whammy: People are taxed to pay for Medicaid and then pay higher premiums because of Medicaid.

Other nations that have experimented with universal health care are losing good doctors, he noted.

“In Germany, a doctor working 60-hour weeks gets about $56,000 per year – a lower hourly wage than American janitors,” Ritze said. “It’s no surprise that many German doctors are now moving to other countries.”

Ritze noted similar reforms enacted in Massachusetts failed to reduce costs. In fact, low-income citizens who previously had access to free care are now required to pay for it and premiums have increased 9.4 percent, according to a study by Physicians for a National Health Program and Public Citizens.

That same study concluded that a middle-income Massachusetts citizen would pay nearly $10,000 in premiums, deductibles and co-payments under the cheapest available state plan if he or she became sick and required serious medical treatment.

“Merely reducing the number of uninsured does not reduce overall cost,” Ritze said. “In Massachusetts, patients face significant wait times to see a primary care doctor and therefore still tend to go to the emergency room for every medical need.”

The two legislators said simpler reforms could provide greater benefit.

“We must get back to the ‘primary care concept’ where every American has a personal family physician who directs his medical care,” Cox said. “This has been shown in study after study to reduce cost. The present system requires too many clerks working in health care that are not involved in patient care. The administrative paper/computer work required is a major cost driver in the system. Unfortunately, I have not seen any part of the Obama plan that addresses this issue.”

Ritze said a better reform would end the current tax discrimination against individually purchased health care policies.

He also called for allowing individuals to purchase plans across state lines and an expansion of health savings accounts, which allow patients to pay for care with pre-tax money, effectively giving citizens a pay raise and increased control.

“The simple fact is that we do not have a true free-market system in U.S. healthcare today,” Ritze said. “The system is broken, but we will not improve if we supersize the existing flaws. We need true health care reform in this country, but that isn’t being discussed in Washington.”