The engine of competition

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I’m sure that many of you have driven a car for so many years that eventually the engine gives out. You can put in a new muffler or a new radiator. You can replace the transmission and put on a new coat of paint. But if the engine has failed, then that car won’t run again until you put in a new engine.

The way I see it, Obamacare is like a car with a bad engine. At the heart of the new health care law is a big-government solution. Unfortunately, big government is the cause of many problems with health care. Creating more bureaucracy, more rules, more oversight boards, and more regulations won’t fix a health system that lacks the engine that runs most of the American economy.

That engine is competition. In most cases, Americans have a wide variety of choices. When you go to buy a television, you have thousands of choices in picture quality, size, and features. When you turn that television on, you see dozens of different car insurance companies advertising their services. In both televisions and car insurance, there is vigorous competition for consumer dollars.

It isn’t remotely the same in health care. Most individuals get their health insurance through their workplace. Their employer probably only has a few choices when it comes to purchasing insurance. In some states, a single insurer dominates the market.

Many parts of our health care system remain competitive and we see the results. Medical research, pharmaceuticals and medical devices are regulated to ensure that only safe products and procedures enter the market. However, individual companies and research institutions in these fields compete vigorously and American patients, and the world, benefit. In the last decade, Americans won or shared the Nobel Prize in medicine seven times.

One of the greatest barriers to competition is the inability to purchase across state lines. As mentioned before, the competition within a single state can be very limited. Also, Americans purchasing insurance in the individual market cannot keep their plan when they move between states.

Workers who receive insurance through their employer cannot keep their insurance when they leave their job. They also can’t receive the same tax benefit that a company gets by providing benefits to employees. This antiquated system is a relic of World War II wage controls. To get around wartime regulations, companies were allowed to offer competitive benefits. Decades later, this system makes little sense.

Rather than controlling prices and quality with competition, Obamacare seeks to put government in control of more healthcare decisions. The federal government will not only require individuals to carry health insurance, it will also define the minimum benefits.

Companies will have to purchase plans that meet government standards. Because of the high standards, many plans offered today don’t meet the requirements. The Department of Health and Human Services has had to offer hundreds of waivers to companies and unions so that they don’t drop their health care plans altogether.

Individuals will have to purchase insurance that is approved by the federal government. Since most existing individual plans won’t comply with the new standards, consumers will be forced to purchase new and more expensive coverage. Rather than reducing future medical costs, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that medical costs will rise faster because of Obamacare.

Republicans want the engine of competition and patient choice to run our health care system. Patients should be able to purchase across state lines, take their plan with them from job to job, and get the same tax treatment as companies. We also want small businesses and other organizations to be able to pool together to purchase care just like big corporations.

We need full repeal, because at its heart Obamacare is anti-competitive. We can pass piecemeal free-market reforms, but mountains of red tape would strangle them. Real reform isn’t creating 159 new federal offices and tens of thousands of pages of regulations. It’s making insurance companies compete and offer choices so that patients can decide what they want and need.

Rep. Joe Pitts represents Pennsylvania’s Sixteenth Congressional District.