The GOP Needs Honesty In Healthcare Bills

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Joanne Butler Contributor
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Watching HHS Secretary Tom Price on a chat show this morning, I was underwhelmed by his non-answer of: How many people will lose their health care under the Senate bill?  My message to the D.C. GOP echo chamber:  Losing healthcare is the big question for Americans and if you’re not straight with them, you’ll lose the sale.

Forget all that stuff from talk radio and some think tanks about how healthcare is not a right.  That’s easy to say if you’re one of those mega-millionaire radio entertainers or a think tank-thinker who’s well paid.  They have the excess funds to buy health insurance no matter what’s going on in their lives.  Bad lifestyle habits?  No problem!  Pre-existing conditions?  No problem!

But it is a problem for ordinary Americans who cannot afford to shell out thousands of dollars per month for insurance.

Take me, for example.  When I was in my forties, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer (I’m cured, thanks).  Fortunately I was working for the federal government, and was covered under the federal employee policy.  If, say, a year later I tried to buy insurance on the private market, what would I pay for coverage, assuming I’d get covered at all?  For an insurance company, a potential customer who’s a cancer survivor is a non-starter.  Or qualifies for a policy that guarantees a ramen-noodle diet for the rest of one’s life.

Further, Secretary Price repeated the mantra that many doctors do not accept Medicaid.  True, but what if our nation expanded the number of nurse-practitioners who could write prescriptions for basic medical needs?  Nurse-practitioners are paid less than physicians, and might work more easily within Medicaid’s cost structure.

However, Secretary Price also is a physician, and the American Medical Association has strongly resisted expanding the role of nurse practitioners, even though expansion would lead to lower healthcare costs. My guess is Price doesn’t care for the idea of nurse-practitioners replacing the no-Medicaid doctors.

Expanding on this – what if nurse-practitioners were more widely available for the general populace?  People who could handle routine matters such as:  Kamal’s sore throat, Tanya’s earache, and Cody’s stomach flu.  That would have a positive impact on healthcare costs.

Decades ago, dentists (whose clients pay upfront, and are infrequently covered by insurance) realized that dental hygienists could do teeth-cleaning and a basic examination at a lower cost.  Indeed, back in the day dentists would do this stuff!  By using hygienists, a dentist can carry a higher patient load as he/she spends less time per patient, plus keeping costs within range.  A higher patient load translates into more income.

If you expect to find sensible ideas like this in either the House or Senate’s bills, I think you’ll be disappointed.

But to return to my main point, the number one concern among Americans when considering changes to Obamacare is the possibility of loss of health insurance.  An ideal GOP fix would keep everyone who’s insured today – insured tomorrow and next year, and so on.

Otherwise, the Congressional GOP risks going into the 2018 mid-terms with that stereotypical albatross around its neck:  the Ayn Randian notion of makers versus takers, and caring more about the rich than the needs of ordinary people.

Donald Trump won the presidency by being a populist and flinging that albatross into the sea.  When it comes to replacing Obamacare, House and Senate Republicans would be wise to follow the president’s example.