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State medical association against ‘public option’

As physicians who care for Mississippi, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) is fighting for all of our citizens to have access to quality healthcare. However, MSMA does not support the so-called “Public Option” or any government-sponsored single-payer system.  As we weigh in on the debate, here are our concerns.

As physicians, we help patients make life and death decisions every day. Mississippi doctors and patients are, therefore, apprehensive about the current federal efforts to change healthcare.  Simple questions arise like: “Will I be able to seek advice from my doctor to make the best healthcare decisions or will someone else control those decisions?,” “Who will decide which doctor I can see?,” and “Will the Public Option plan operate under the same rules and regulations as my private plan?”  

No one can answer these questions truthfully because the legislation, known as HR 3200, is changing constantly due to tremendous public pressure.  MSMA is proud to stand with citizens who are trying to have a voice in the process.

Why does MSMA oppose the Public Option?  As experienced with other government-run healthcare plans like Medicare, MSMA foresees a gradual “creep” that would result in a “Public Option,” which would cost too much, limit choice and access to doctors and treatments and reduce quality of healthcare. Proposals that allow the government to determine what constitutes quality medical care ultimately rely upon cost containment, which interferes in the patient-physician relationship. This is not in the best interests of our patients. We believe that decisions concerning your health should always be made between you and your physician.

A better approach to healthcare transformation should begin with medical liability reform as a cornerstone for any national health system reorganization. As we have proven in Mississippi, tort reform works. National liability reform will reduce costs by decreasing unnecessary measures physicians take to avoid being sued. This is known as the practice of defensive medicine.

In 2004, MSMA physicians helped pass the nation’s most comprehensive tort reform legislation in two decades, partially to stop lawsuit abuse in the area of medical liability. It worked! Medical liability insurance costs are down 42 percent. Doctors have received an average rebate of 20 percent of their annual paid premium. The number of frivolous lawsuits against Mississippi doctors fell dramatically after tort reform went into effect. Doctors have quit leaving the state and limiting their practices to avoid lawsuit abuse.  Patient access to quality healthcare has improved.

Congress should pursue initiatives to create greater transparency with stronger rules and regulations for the private insurance market. We should make every effort to bring about greater efficiencies and cost savings whenever possible. Strict regulation of private insurance markets would push competition from within instead of from the outside.

Supporters of a government-run plan say the “Feds” could use their influence to lower costs. But that is exactly the problem. As the government cuts payments to providers, costs would go up for everyone in the private market. Slowly but surely the government plan would take over the market. Eventually, all the promises about creating a level playing field would be broken. Americans would be left with a single-payer, government-run health insurance program.  I doubt if many Americans support such a plan. 

As I have said before, “If you think healthcare is expensive now, just wait until it is free!” and I meant it.  

MSMA will continue to support meaningful health system reform based on the principles of expanded access, preservation of the doctor-patient relationship, prevention and personal healthy lifestyle responsibility, quality improvement, healthcare delivery reform, reducing costs as well as fiscal responsibility and sustainability.  More information on our position on healthcare reform can be found at www.msmaonline.com.


Randy Easterling, M.D., is president of the Mississippi State Medical Association.


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