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Protecting Our Seniors

GOP Principles for Health Care

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By Michael S. Steele
Monday, August 24, 2009

Americans are engaged in a critical debate over reforming our health-care system. While Republicans believe that reforms are necessary, President Obama's plan for a government-run health-care system is the wrong prescription. The Democrats' plan will hurt American families, small businesses and health-care providers by raising care costs, increasing the deficit, and not allowing patients to keep a doctor or insurance plan of their choice. Furthermore, under the Democrats' plan, senior citizens will pay a steeper price and will have their treatment options reduced or rationed.

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Republicans want reform that should, first, do no harm, especially to our seniors. That is why Republicans support a Seniors' Health Care Bill of Rights, which we are introducing today, to ensure that our greatest generation will receive access to quality health care. We also believe that any health-care reform should be fully paid for, but not funded on the backs of our nation's senior citizens.

The Republican Party's contract with seniors includes tenets that Americans, regardless of political party, should support. First, we need to protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of "health-insurance reform." As the president frequently, and correctly, points out, Medicare will go deep into the red in less than a decade. But he and congressional Democrats are planning to raid, not aid, Medicare by cutting $500 billion from the program to fund his health-care experiment. The president also plans to cut hospital payments and Medicare Advantage, all of which will mean fewer treatment options for seniors. These types of "reforms" don't make sense for the future of an already troubled federal program or for the services it provides that millions of Americans count on.

Second, we need to prohibit government from getting between seniors and their doctors. The government-run health-care experiment that Obama and the Democrats propose will give seniors less power to control their own medical decisions and create government boards that would decide what treatments would or would not be funded. Republicans oppose any new government entity overruling a doctor's decision about how to treat his or her patient.

Simply put, we believe that health-care reform must be centered on patients, not government.

Third, we need to outlaw any effort to ration health care based on age. Obama has promoted a program of "comparative effectiveness research" that he claims will be used only to study competing medical treatments. But this program could actually lead to government boards rationing treatments based on age. For example, if there are going to be only so many heart surgeries in a given year, the Democrats figure government will get more bang for its buck if more young and middle-aged people get them.

Fourth, we need to prevent government from dictating the terms of end-of-life care. Many of the most significant costs of care come in the last six months of a patient's life, and every American household must consider how to treat their loved ones. Obama's government-run health "reform" would pay for seniors' meetings with a doctor to discuss end-of-life care. While nonthreatening at first, something that is quite normal for a family to do becomes troublesome when the government gets involved. Seniors know that government programs that seem benign at first can become anything but. The government should simply butt out of conversations about end-of-life care and leave them to seniors, their families and their doctors.

Finally, we need to protect our veterans by preserving Tricare and other benefit programs for military families. Democrats recently proposed raising costs for the Tricare for Life program that many veterans rely on for treatment. Republicans support our veterans and believe that America should honor our promises to them.

Barack Obama campaigned on "post-partisanship." As president, however, Obama has shown that he is beholden to his party's left-wing ideologues. It's not too late for him to honor his pledges for bipartisan health-care reform. Reversing course and joining Republicans in support of health care for our nation's senior citizens is a good place to start. Doing so will help him restart the reform process to give Americans access to low-cost, high-quality health care.

The writer is chairman of the Republican National Committee.



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