Dr. Tom Price: Coronavirus highlights health care systems flaws — this will make it worse

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency predicts that by June, the daily COVID-19 death toll will reach 3,000 Americans and that an astonishing 200,000 people will contract the virus each day. Those numbers, simply put, are astronomical, and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in the United States.

The loss of life is unthinkable to bear, and it’s also bringing to light some very stark realities about our country’s health care system. Cracks that are always present but often not seen by the public are now on full display.

For months, governments at the federal, state and local levels have been grappling with policies intended to flatten the curve. Despite these efforts, health care facilities in many parts of the country have had to make due with little or inadequate personal protective equipment, ventilators and other life-saving supplies.

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The public may never have known about the fragile state of some aspects of health care in our country if the coronavirus pandemic had not struck. But strike it did, and with a vengeance.

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For years, poll after poll has shown that Americans believe our health care system is broken. As a physician who practiced medicine for years before entering the political arena, my first-hand experience shows me that Americans are indeed correct. Despite the best efforts of many in the medical community, our health care system must undergo serious changes if we are to be better able to serve our families, friends and loved ones.

COVID-19 has convinced some in our nation that the solution to the health care crisis we face is giving government the power to run the system. Yet many of those same people believe that the government has failed to properly respond to the virus.

While the so-called public option, which is just another name for "Medicare-for-all," might seem like the answer to our problems to some, empowering an institution that failed to protect the nearly 100,000 Americans who have lost their lives to the virus is the exact wrong policy.  We simply can’t trust Washington to make our health decisions for us.

The idea of putting thousands of bureaucrats, a very small fraction of whom have any medical background at all, in charge of our health care decisions just does not make sense. 

Doctors and other medical providers are best equipped to help Americans make decisions regarding their health. But the federal government is not comprised solely of medical professionals. Even those with medical backgrounds at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have struggled to put forth guidelines quickly enough to prevent the massive death toll we’re seeing from the virus.

The idea, then, of putting thousands of bureaucrats, a very small fraction of whom have any medical background at all, in charge of our health care decisions just does not make sense.

"Medicare-for-all" would be a public takeover of our health care on an unprecedented scale. It would put medical decisions for families across the country in the hands of politicians, not doctors and patients. It would drive costs up and deprive families of health care choices – at the very moment when most Americans are concerned about better and more affordable access to care.

During these trying times in our nation, we need more choices and control when it comes to our medical conditions, not fewer. We need better quality care now more than ever, and the comfort of seeing medical professionals we choose and trust.

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Further, many of the innovations that detect and treat COVID-19 are being developed by private entities, not government institutions. Scientists at Stanford Medicine developed a test to detect coronavirus antibodies. A Boston-based therapeutics company is developing a promising vaccine, as is a separate company in Seattle.

The National Institutes of Health recently called on all innovators to rapidly develop coronavirus diagnostics, promising a share of a $500 million pool earmarked for the project, because the government simply isn’t capable of developing diagnostics as quickly as those in the private sector.

This kind of empowerment is what the politicians should be doing for our nation’s doctors, nurses and medical professionals. They are the real heroes of this crisis. But enacting "Medicare-for-all" would do the exact opposite – it would take away their ability to administer the personal care we all desperately need at this time.

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We will ultimately prevail over the COVID-19 pandemic. Children will return to school. Families will resume routine medical visits. One day, this nightmare will be in the past. But the worst thing we could do would be to bring about a nightmarish future for our health care system when this does end, and expanding government-run health care would do just that.

The American people deserve to make their own health care choices, which will result in the highest quality of care.

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