Defending The Federal Health Board

health.jpgWhile progressives are working to build bipartisan support for affordable health care reform, some conservatives have started laying the groundwork for a misinformation campaign against universal coverage.

Just this week, the Washington Times published two editorials mis-characterizing Tom Daschle’s Federal Health Board (FHB) proposal as a big-government take-over of health care. In truth, the Board (which is not part of President-elect Obama’s proposal) is designed to tackle the status quo: address the inequalities of the health insurance market, lower health costs and increase access to care. Here are some facts about what the federal health board would do:

The Board will establish “centralized government control over our health-care decisions by a powerful elite that will decide what’s good for us, and what isn’t.” The Board will function like the FAA or the Federal Reserve. Just like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishes flight rules that private airline carriers must follow, the Federal Health Board will develop guidelines on premiums and marketing practices and prevent insurers from shunning high-cost enrollees.The Board would police the health insurance market, as the Food and Drug Administration oversees and regulates drugs, medical devices, the nation’s food supply and cosmetics. Moreover, while federal health programs would have to abide by the recommendations of the Board, private insurers would not. “The goal is a Board that is a standard setter that allows a private delivery system to operate within a public framework,” Daschle writes.
Health care decisions will be shifted “into the hands of bureaucrats.” The ultimate decision making and vision for reform will be left to Congress and the President. Reforming the health care system “involves complex decisions that must be responsive to rapid changes in the health system.” To ensure oversight and decrease the influence of special interests, the President would appoint (and the Senate would confirm) a Board of Governors and form separate regional boards to promote the best practices and quality of care. In fact, far from being staffed by “bureaucrats,” both boards will contain clinicians, health benefit managers, economists researchers, and community business representatives.
The board will deny payments for treatments. The board would lower health care costs, improve care quality, and increase access to treatments. According to one study, America wastes about $700 billion a year “on unnecessary procedures, unnecessary visits to the doctor, overpriced pharmaceuticals, bloated insurance companies, and the most inefficient paper billing systems imaginable.” To eliminate waste, the Board would serve as a research hub to identify the procedures that provide the best results at the lowest cost without forcing “a hard-and-fast rule on cost effectiveness in public policy.” To lower health care costs, the Board would establish a Health Insurance Exchange (in which individuals will have a choice of enrolling in an affordable private plan with comprehensive benefits or a new public plan) to promote competition between insurers.

Fifteen years ago, during President Clinton’s efforts to reform the health care system, conservatives launched almost identical attacks against affordable health reform. As Ben Furnas points out, if opponents of reform succeed today, “the next 15 years are likely to resemble the last 15.”