By Grace-Marie Turner, Galen Institute
House Republicans held three hearings last Wednesday about dozens of initiatives to restore competition, consumer choice, and sanity to our health sector.
A few highlights:
- hearing on lowering costs and increasing transparency and competition in health care.Chaired by Rep. Brett Guthrie, the committee heard testimony for five hours, getting feedback on 17 bills.
“Republicans and Democrats on this committee are reaching across the aisle to advance solutions, and these bipartisan efforts can be seen in many of proposals before us today,” Rep. Guthrie said in his opening statement.
“Transparency can reveal the true value of each step in the health care supply chain and empower patients and employers to get the best deal on high quality care. Many of the proposals before the subcommittee today will shine a light on prescription drug middlemen and further polices to make the health care system more competitive to lower costs,” he said.
The bills would, for example, enforce the requirements for hospitals and health plans to provide consumers with accurate and understandable information on health care prices; address consolidation in health systems that is driving up costs by driving out competition; and stop hospitals from charging up to four times as much for services delivered in a doctor’s office just because a hospital now owns the practice.
- Reducing Health Care Costs for Working Americans and Their Families.” Chairman Bob Good offered “a vision for free-market health care reform that offers Americans much-needed relief. As a nation, we cannot settle for less than American exceptionalism. And we cannot turn to socialist countries for health care advice. We need to listen to the American people.” He said the committee would focus on leveling the playing field so employers can continue to offer coverage.
Our friend Joel White of the Council for Affordable Health Coverage explained in his testimony how Congress can make private health coverage more affordable for employers and their workers.
“Employers are the largest source of coverage in the US, representing more than half of all covered lives,” Joel testified. “Employees love their health benefits, and, according to our recent polling, want Congress to strengthen their health coverage.
“Unfortunately, policies adopted in the last decade, in addition to rising health costs, inflation, a tight labor market, regulatory red tape, and taxes, make it difficult if not impossible for businesses of all sizes to provide affordable coverage. Worse, some in Congress want to take away private employer insurance.”
He highlighted a slate of legislative initiatives to allow four million small business to join together for a better deal via Association Health Plans, expand access to telehealth, and protect self-funding options for employers.
- tax-exempt hospitals and whether they provide enough charity care to justify their multi-billion dollar tax exemptions. Chairman David Schweikert said evidence shows “significant deficits in community benefits provided as compared to the value of some hospitals’ tax exemption.” The exemption is worth, by some estimates, $28 billion a year.
Ge Bai of Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and also a CPA explained in her testimony how reporting requirements for non-profit hospitals could be strengthened to more accurately reflect their charitable activities.
“The proposed disclosure of taxpayer subsidies has the potential to allow stakeholders and policymakers the flexibility to understand, design, and test alternative ways of encouraging tax-exempt hospitals to provide meaningful community benefits,” she said.
These activities and initiatives offered by conservatives are only a taste of the many proposals in both houses of Congress to tackle the myriad issues to restore a properly functioning health sector in the U.S. It’s a refreshing pivot from hearing after hearing in the last Congress on ways to expand government control over our health sector.
Grace-Marie Turner runs the Galen Institute, a public policy research organization that she founded in 1995 to promote an informed debate over free-market ideas for health reform.