As we head into the 2014 election cycle, two issues continue to dominate the political landscape — the economy and health care.
These two issues are linked, in my opinion, as the health of our workers is directly tied to productivity of our nation’s workforce. One might even argue that the economy will not be "fixed" completely until we eliminate the pitfalls of our health care system.
We have all seen the statistics and comparisons to other nations. The U.S. spends nearly twice as much money per capita on health care as other developed nations, yet Americans end up with worse care and poorer health. This from one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations in the world.
Even after Congress passed Obama Care and Arkansas took this bad piece of legislation and tried to make it better by passing the "Private Option," many people are asking, "Where do we go from here?"
As a legislator, I believe that we have a great deal of work ahead of us to get our healthcare system on the right track. For example, I have heard from numerous constituents regarding recently released information about the dramatic increase in health insurance premiums for school employees. This is indicative of the immediate need to address this issue.
First, we must recognize that healthcare is a unique and emotional issue, and one that affects every American. We also must recognize that for some – physicians for example – healthcare delivery is an occupation and a livelihood. Some hospitals are set up as for-profit businesses, and operate with the bottom line in mind at all times, while others are structured as not-for-profit entities, in order to serve broader community needs. Certainly both types of hospitals have a purpose in our system.
But because healthcare delivery is something that literally can mean the difference between life and death, there is a proper balance that must be found between healthcare as a service, and healthcare as a business. As a free-market conservative, I believe in the right of private enterprise to enter a marketplace, create efficiencies, serve customers, and yes, make a profit — as long as patients are being served ethically, responsibly, and effectively. However, when we allow proper treatment of patients to become a secondary priority to generating profits at all costs, then we have failed.
Recently, I read where a large "for-profit" healthcare chain was admitting emergency room patients to their facilities regardless of whether the patient’s health required an overnight stay, because admitting them allowed the facility to bill for more tests, services, and other profit generating expenses. Clearly it is not in any patients’ best interest for a hospital to set quotas on the percentage of patients that have to be admitted through the emergency room. Profitability should never be a factor in wellness.
Outside of the for-profit model, we have non-profit hospitals and community health centers providing critical healthcare services to patients of all economic backgrounds, and also invest in the communities in which they serve. I’ve seen locally in my legislative district how non-profit re-investment of profits benefits the local community. These facilities serve as the anchors of their communities, and provide critical and sometimes even unprofitable services, because of their charitable mission to serve broader community needs. Without these patient focused facilities, too many Americans would struggle to receive the critical care they need.
Challenges still confront us.
Expanding access to care is critically important to solving our healthcare issues. I believe we must continue to promote access through competition in the marketplace and provide incentives for customer participation. It just makes sense that the more coverage options provided to customers, the cheaper the premiums will be. Competition is a market determinant.
I also believe that we should be innovative in our approach. Currently, I see no silver bullets to resolving this problem, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be willing to explore new avenues. We must think differently and be proactive. There is an old saying, "if you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten."
We must tackle, head on, the rapidly increasing healthcare costs our nation is facing, while working to improve healthcare outcomes at the same time. And that is a responsibility that we all must share. It includes a personal responsibility to live a healthier lifestyle and to seek preventative care; an ethical responsibility at all times for providers to put patients before profits; and a charge for elected officials at all levels to implement policies to create a more efficient, more effective, and world class healthcare system right here at home.
As a current State Representative, we must take these obligations seriously, and I look forward to working in the legislature to explore new approaches and compare what currently exists. This is important for me, for our state, and for our nation’s future.
I hope you’ll join me, and together we can work to make it a reality.
(Rep. Eubanks, R-Paris, represents Logan County in the Arkansas House of Representatives.)