Marshall against health care bills on the table

COVINGTON - Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., said he opposes all five bills that are proposed to address health care reform.

Marshall said any plan that does not address the bleak financial future of the health care system won't be effective and the current plans are "just throwing more money at the system."

"In their present form, if any of these bills came up, I'd vote 'no,'" he said.

Marshall's comments came at a meeting with administrators of Newton Medical Center on Thursday afternoon. Marshall has been traveling around the 8th District in recent days to take the public pulse on health care reform. In addition to hosting town hall meetings, he is also meeting with those in the health care field.

"The system we have is broken," Marshall said. If the current course continues, in 20 to 30 years the national debt will be $50 trillion, with $40 trillion of that health care related, he said. By that time, health care will take up the lion's share of the budget, with nearly nothing left to spend on defense, transportation or education, he added.

Hospital administrators and doctors who attended the meeting had ideas about cutting health care costs and expressed some doubts about a nationalized system.

Hospital Administrator Jim Weadick said perhaps the Medicare and Social Security problems need to be solved before the government takes on another monumental task.

Troy Brooks, assistant administrator of fiscal services, added that if the majority of Congress thinks Medicaid and Medicare are broken, it doesn't make sense to implement another government program as a solution.

Brooks said the rationing of health care that will result must be addressed.

While the so-called death panels that have people up in arms likely won't materialize, a reduction in quality of care could, he said.

For example, a patient in need of an implant has three choices: titanium, ceramic and steel. If a government-sponsored plan only pays for the cheapest option to keep costs down, the patient could be forced to go with lower quality.

But Dr. Mark Hanson, a cardiologist, said rationing is necessary.

"I don't see how we can live in a society where we don't ration. For some reasons, this country thinks health care is a right, without an end to money," he said.

Hanson said he sees the most money wasted toward the end of a patient's life. Families want tests and procedures to prolong the lives of their loved ones, and doctors are too fearful of being sued for malpractice to not follow family directives, he said.

"I think a whole lot of money is wasted in the last couple of months of people's lives on extremely expensive therapies," Hanson said. "Rationing is just a word that this country is going to have to get used to."

Dr. Steve Whitworth, the hospital's chief of staff, agreed that he could cut the cost of his services by 25 percent if he didn't have to worry about being sued.

Weadick said medical malpractice legislation passed in 2004 gave insurance companies "a free ride," noting that malpractice insurance premiums have not been reduced.

He said the fear of a lawsuit means that every patient who comes to the emergency room with stomach pain will have a CT scan - a $1,000 test - even if the ER doctor doesn't believe it's necessary.

He also said there are not enough primary care physicians to meet the surge in demand that will result from the health care reform, if all Americans are required to get insurance.

Marshall said he does not believe a public option plan is necessary to improve the health care system.

It's right to be worried that a government-sponsored plan could drive private insurers out of the market, leaving consumers with only one insurance option, he said. Americans must have confidence that they are in control of managing their own health care, he added.

The Healthy Americans Act that proposes universal private health insurance coverage could be an alternative, he said.

The bill would guarantee private health care coverage for all Americans and allow them to choose their health insurance provider; provide health benefits equal to those that members of Congress enjoy; make health care portable from job to job and even allow Americans to keep it between jobs; and provide incentives for individuals and insurers to focus on prevention, wellness and disease management, rewarding healthy lifestyles.

Marshall said he needs more information before deciding if he will support the bill.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.