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Santorum right about 'Better Health, More Freedom'

By Daniel D. Bennett, M.D.
The Capital Times (Madison, Wis.), March 30, 2012

As a freedom-loving American, I am pleasantly surprised to find that presidential candidate Rick Santorum and I agree on an issue. While the Supreme Court considers the merits of the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"), Santorum is campaigning in front of a banner proclaiming "Better Health, More Freedom." So far, so good. We agree.

On better health, I assume that Santorum desires better health for ALL Americans. One critical element in achieving "better health" is universal access to necessary health services. Emergency rooms cannot and do not provide adequate health care for the vast majority of illnesses but, for many Americans, emergency rooms are their only venue for obtaining medical care. Our medical "safety net" is weak and porous. Millions of Americans have no access to health care, and millions more are limited by their inability to pay high deductibles and co-pays. Unaffordable medical care is no longer just a problem for the poor and uninsured. Fortunately, it appears that Santorum and I agree on our dire need to improve access to care.

On more freedom, absolutely. I want the freedom to see the physician of my choosing rather than the physician on contract with my insurance company. A parent with a chronically ill child deserves the freedom to know that her child will have health care without regard to "lifetime limits" and "pre-existing conditions." Imagine the freedom to start a small business or create a new product without worrying that you and your family are left at risk of bankruptcy (or worse) due to a serious illness or injury. How many budding entrepreneurs are trapped in large companies because they need health insurance? Patients would find it freeing to make medical decisions based on outcomes data rather than out-of-pocket cost. As a physician, I want freedom from the expanding administrative complexity of our profit-driven health insurance industry. Fundamentally, we cannot be truly free while shareholder interests take priority over the needs of the sick.

There is only one rational solution and this, I suspect, is where Rick Santorum and I disagree. A national tax-supported single-payer health insurance system will provide better health care AND more freedom. The Affordable Care Act makes the critical mistake of perpetuating and expanding the for-profit health care model. I bristle at the idea of using taxes to subsidize and force citizens to purchase a terrible product. As things stand, health insurance coverage does not guarantee health care access. This is the time for real health care reform. This is our moon landing, our interstate highway system and, considering the casualties, our civil war. With the money we are already spending, we can design and implement a universal health care system that will be the envy of the world. If Rick Santorum will agree to that, even I might vote for him.

Dr. Daniel D. Bennett is a member of the steering committee of Wisconsin Physicians for a National Health Program.

http://host.madison.com/ct/news/opinion/column/dr-daniel-d-bennett-santo...