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Capitol Comment 193 – A Real Patients’ Bill of Rights

America’s health care system is the finest in the world, yet American patients increasingly face higher costs, fewer choices and greater rationing of medical care. A recent news item describes how politicians typically address these problems:

Democrats are often more willing to spend money on new or existing government programs and to regulate the insurance market, while Republicans usually prefer to use the tax code as an instrument of social policy.1

Ironically, America’s health care troubles are on the rise because government has done too much of all of the above, reducing patients’ control over their own medical care.

Subsidies, regulations, and consumer manipulation through the tax code rest on the false assumption that politicians and bureaucrats do a better job of running the health care system than hundreds of millions of consumers choosing freely in an open market. Despite noble intentions, government controls leave patients with less control over their health care, damage quality, drive up costs and make medical care less affordable.

Individuals have a right to control their health care — without interference from employers or government bureaucrats. Individual control in an open market would force doctors, hospitals and insurance companies to compete to deliver low-cost, high-quality medical care to patients; ensure a wide variety of products and services; and keep care focused on the patient’s needs, rather than the bottom line.

Certain opponents of additional government controls argue the market will correct itself if left alone. But in order for a market to self-correct, consumers must be sovereign. Unfortunately, health care consumers will not be sovereign until politicians dislodge their preferences from consumers’ health care decisions. This means removing regulations (including coverage mandates and price controls), eliminating inequalities in the tax code through fundamental tax reform (such as a flat tax) and allowing choice and competition in government health programs (such as Medicare and Medicaid).

Politicians and consumers should judge health care reform proposals according to the following bill of rights, which are basic to all individuals.

Patients’ Bill of Rights

In the spirit of the original Bill of Rights, which imposed limits on government’s ability to infringe upon essential personal freedoms, we hereby affirm the following medical rights, which are basic to all individuals and upon which no government may rightfully infringe.

Congress shall make no law sanctioning or penalizing a particular method of medical care; or of financing medical care.
Through manipulation of the tax code, government artificially raises and lowers the price of various methods of health care payment, with disastrous effects on the availability of medical services. Any system of taxation should treat all individuals equally, irrespective of how much medical care they consume and where or whether they buy health coverage.

By granting itself the exclusive authority to decide what medical treatments are safe, effective and legal, government suppresses medical innovation, increases health care costs, and causes unnecessary suffering and death.

The freedom to contract being necessary to the pursuit of happiness; the right of the people to contract for medical services shall not be infringed.
Artificial rules that restrict the people’s ability to contract for health care and coverage lead to higher costs, more disease and unnecessary deaths. Laws that require consumers to buy particular health benefits price coverage out of reach for millions; they serve special interests, not public health. Price controls (e.g. forced community rating) wrongfully restrict the people’s ability to negotiate a price for health services, drive desirable risks out of the coverage market, and make coverage more expensive and less available. Government health programs that restrict a patient’s ability to draw upon personal resources violate the people’s right to contract for medical services and diminish their quality of care.

The gaps in our health care system are the result of laws that subject free individuals to artificial rules and unfairly benefit some groups over others. America’s health care troubles will not be solved until these artificial rules are removed. Allowing the people to make their own choices in an open market is the best way government can ensure the availability of affordable, high-quality health care.

©1999 Citizens for a Sound Economy

1Robert Pear, “Republicans Draft Tax Bill to Aid People Without Health Benefits,” The New York Times, March 30, 1998, p. A1.