Friday afternoon, I interviewed Rep. Charles Boustany, (R-LA), on the subject of health care in general and the ‘private option’ provisions specifically. Let’s start with a little bit of background on Rep. Boustany.
Before he became Rep. Boustany, he was Dr. Boustany. Rep. Boustany was a practicing physician for over 20 years, with the last 14 years specializing in heart surgery.
The first thing that I asked Rep. Boustany about was what he was hearing in terms of the pace at which health care hearings would be proceeding. He said that he’d heard that Sen. Baucus had delayed his initial hearing until next week, mostly because they were balking at the high price tag, which was estimated at $1,300,000,000,000.
The word is that they won’t get far with this bill until it’s trimmed below $1,000,000,000,000.
Rep. Boustany said that he’s hearing that the House Ways and Means Committee is having difficulties getting their act together. He said that they’re having trouble figuring out which taxes to increase to pay for the high pricetag for the public option.
Another question I asked was whether there was increased public pressure being put on Blue Dog and swing district Democrats by John Q. Public. Rep. Boustany said that that’s definitely happening. He reported, too, that there’s alot of grumbling behind the scenes because they aren’t willing to openly criticize House leadership.
The next subject we talked about was whether government was capable of efficiently administering the changing world of health care. Rep. Boustany said that, based on his personal experiences dealing with government regulators, that the answer to that question was a definite no. Rep. Boustany said that the government is incapable of the type of flexibility that’s needed.
Rep. Boustany also said that the doctor-patient relationship shouldn’t be discounted in these considerations. He said that doctors, working in concert with their patients, make the type of quality decisions that bureaucrats can’t possibly make.
Another topic that we discussed was regulations/mandate-oriented health care vs. cafeteria-style health care. Rep. Boustany said that giving patients the widest variety of choices is the centerpiece of the Patients’ Choice Act. He said that minimizing the number of mandates will drive down both health costs and health insurance premiums while giving the patients a high quality insurance policy.
He pointed out, too, that that’s the best way to spur competition. Rep. Boustany said that putting a high priority on innovation, both in terms of health care and with health insurance, is a great motivator to not get complacent.
Rep. Boustany said one thing that government can do is put together a user-friendly website that tells health care consumers what policies are available from which companies. This website, we agreed, would have to be the ultimate in user friendly features and that it would have to include which hospitals and clinics do the best work for the various specialties.
Rep. Boustany said that this is likely to work because “Americans love to shop”. With more people getting dissatisfied with their current health care situation each day, the greater the likelihood that these people would find such a website helpful.
Another topic that I brought up in our conversation was that the public option is nothing more than government-imposed price controls. Rep. Boustany agreed, then said that, based on his experience with Medicare and Medicaid, that this option would cause some hospitals and clinics to shut down because they can’t survive on the Medicare/Medicaid payments.
If that became the rule rather than the exception, it would hurt quality dramatically. I suggested that people whose children have been diagnosed with cancer or whose parents just got diagnosed with Alzheimers want robust innovation.
That observation drew a swift and passionate response from Rep. Boustany. He said those are the types of health care consumers who want robust research programs because in some instances, it’s literally the difference between life and death. He said that’s especially true of heart patients.
Rep. Boustany said that having a public option included in any legislation aimed at reforming health care is likely to be counterproductive to the goal of improving America’s health. I wholeheartedly agree and, based on the reports coming out of DC, so do alot of other people across the United States.
The next sign that this thing is collapsing under its own weight will be when Democrats start speaking out against a public option.
This is just speculation but I’m betting that’ll happen well before the August Recess.
Finally, I’d like to thank Rep. Boustany for taking the time out of his busy voting schedule for this interview and for his Rick Curtsinger, his press secretary for getting the interview scheduled.
Comments welcome at LFR.