Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tom Coburn: The health bill is scary

Tom Coburn, United States Senator from Oklahoma and a practicing physician for 25 years has written a powerful opinion in the Wall Street Journal today.  It is a thoughtful and important article and deserves your full reading.  Here are a few paragraphs:
My 25 years as a practicing physician have shown me what happens when government attempts to practice medicine: Doctors respond to government coercion instead of patient cues, and patients die prematurely. Even if the public option is eliminated from the bill, these onerous rationing provisions will remain intact.

For instance, the Reid bill (in sections 3403 and 2021) explicitly empowers Medicare to deny treatment based on cost. An Independent Medicare Advisory Board created by the bill—composed of permanent, unelected and, therefore, unaccountable members—will greatly expand the rationing practices that already occur in the program. Medicare, for example, has limited cancer patients' access to Epogen, a costly but vital drug that stimulates red blood cell production. It has limited the use of virtual, and safer, colonoscopies due to cost concerns. And Medicare refuses medical claims at twice the rate of the largest private insurers.

Section 6301 of the Reid bill creates new comparative effectiveness research (CER) programs. CER panels have been used as rationing commissions in other countries such as the U.K., where 15,000 cancer patients die prematurely every year according to the National Cancer Intelligence Network. CER panels here could effectively dictate coverage options and ration care for plans that participate in the state insurance exchanges created by the bill.

Additionally, the Reid bill depends on the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in no fewer than 14 places. This task force was responsible for advising women under 50 to not undergo annual mammograms. The administration claims the task force recommendations do not carry the force of law, but the Reid bill itself contradicts them in section 2713. The bill explicitly states, on page 17, that health insurance plans "shall provide coverage for" services approved by the task force. This chilling provision represents the government stepping between doctors and patients. When the government asserts the power to provide care, it also asserts the power to deny care.
Tom Coburn first came to my attention in 2005 when he tried to block fellow GOP Senator Ted Stevens' $233 million "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska.  Coburn was a newly elected senator in 2005, having served Oklahoma in the House of Representatives since 1995.  Stevens was a decorated WWII veteran and a godfather of the Senate, appointed in 1968. He served until his failed reelection defeat in November, 2008, ending the longest tenure of any Republican Senator in U.S. history.  Tom Coburn stood up to him like David to Goliath. They continued to butt heads for the remainder of Stevens tenure.

One memorable Stevens quote, came in 2008 after Coburn and Jim DeMint of South Carolina tried to expose and eliminate "home state" pork projects known as "earmarks."  Stevens once said their efforts would succeed over his dead body - "I will be taken out of here on a stretcher."  That quote rings in my brain to this day as a symbol of the failure of the Republican party.

I have a lot of respect for Tom Coburn.  Read his opinion and see if you don't agree.  If you do, share this post with your friends.  Time is running out.

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