Opinion

Price controls never work and will only harm our health care

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There’s a phrase, the cure is worse than the disease. Right now, Congress is aiming to give a master course on the meaning of this expression with new legislation targeting our health care system. If enacted, it would greatly harm rural Maine and my constituents.

To be fair, there is a disease to treat — health care costs. They are metastasizing, and many families are struggling to afford health insurance and the out-of-pocket costs associated with care. Surprise medical bills — when patients are charged large sums for services they didn’t expect to be out-of-network — certainly fall into this morass.

Dustin White,
R-Washburn

Unfortunately, Washington’s surprise billing “solution” won’t help. To the contrary, the Congressional Budget Office predicts it will actually drive up costs over time.

But that’s not the worst of it. The tactic lawmakers want to use comes straight out of Soviet Russia — price controls. For the record, a Roman Emperor tried price controls in 301 A.D. and saw wheat shortages and blood on the streets. President Nixon tried with petroleum and gave us the gas lines of the 1970s.And Venezuela, well, look at the news. “Government benchmark pricing” won’t end any differently with American health care.

Those of us who represent rural areas must speak up about this travesty in the making, because our constituents will be harmed the most. Remote parts of this country are struggling to compete against the big cities to attract the health care talent need. We are striving to level the stakes, but price controls would deal us a losing hand.

The Maine Legislature confronts this issue every session. We know rural Maine is clamoring for primary care doctors and specialists, physician assistants and nursing staff. We hear from residents who must take a day off work and borrow a car to drive 100 miles for medical services. We understand many pregnant women worry they’re liable to give birth before finding an ob-gyn who is taking on new patients and can provide prenatal care.

We’re working hard to secure more doctors, help our hospitals and bolster the health care system, but federal price controls will only make the job harder. If the law says prices for care are whatever the government wants and that’s not enough to keep a medical practice, clinic, or hospital open, that facility will close, plain and simple — and our health care crisis will get worse. Think longer wait times, longer drives, but shorter lives.

As usual, the most vulnerable populations are at greatest risk. Maine stands on the cusp of a demographic shift only ever faced by a handful of communities. Next year, more of our residents will be 65 or older than under 20 years of age. We’re scrambling to establish the programs and enhance the institutions required to care for a graying population with complex medical needs, but with fewer health care workers to do it.
Maine will do our best by our senior citizens, veterans, disabled populations and everyone who needs health care. But we should not be forced to fight additional headwinds out of Washington just to make sure sick people can get treatment, doctors can save lives when emergency strikes and we can all be our healthiest selves.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins should convince her colleagues in the U.S. Senate of the folly of searching the dustbin of history for health care policies like price controls. Instead, they should look forward with us toward new ideas that will help build the healthcare system Maine needs today.

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