Healthcare

Thompson would bring free market health care solutions to Washington

Thompson would bring free market health care solutions to Washington
GOP candidate for Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seat, former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Photo credit: AP

Tommy Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor and current U.S. Senate candidate recently told Human Events that, “outside the presidential election, this is the most important election in the country, because if I do well here, I will help Romney and Ryan carry the state.”

It would also be the death knell for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign and potentially the 51th seat for the Republicans in the Senate, he said. In fact, in a private meeting on Capitol Hill with the Kentucky Republican who leads his party in the upper chamber, Sen. Mitch McConnell told Thompson flat-out that without taking the seat in Wisconsin, the GOP cannot take control of the Senate.

Thompson’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin, is routinely voted one of the most liberal women in Congress, he said.

“She is one of those people who thinks Obamacare does not go far enough.”

“Baldwin doesn’t understand health care the way I do, and she does not believe in the market-based solutions I do,” he said. “I just can’t imagine that the people of Wisconsin would vote for someone who supports nationalized health care.”

Thompson said he became actively involved in health care at the very beginning of his career in public life, when he was first elected to the state legislature in 1966. “When I was first elected, at the age of 23, I went throughout my district, which was rural, and the constant refrain and complaint was that people could not get decent health care, nor could you attract doctors to the small rural communities,” he said.

The former governor said he then approached a medical school and in the course of discussions, met a doctor at the school willing to help establish a department of family medicine. “That was back in 1966-1967, and I passed my first piece of major legislation in 1968 setting up the first department of family medicine.”

Democrats wrong on health care

One of the requirements for students in the department was that they would have to train in rural Wisconsin, he said. “When they got to rural Wisconsin, and they saw the amenities and the opportunities, and just the niceness of living in a rural setting, we could convince them to stay there.”

Ever since, Thompson has been on the leading edge of health care public policy, be it for Wisconsin or for the nation. One program he established was “BadgerCare, which allowed for low income individual families, even without children, to be able to get health care coverage.” Another program, SeniorCare, was established to help keep seniors in their home, he said.

Thompson said he has seen Democrats address the question of how to improve the delivery of health care from the days of President Lyndon B. Johnson with Medicare and Medicaid through the president’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

“There is a huge philosophical divide here,” he said. “Their first idea, and always has been and always will be: What can the government do to control and operate—they have always set up programs leading towards a government takeover of health care.”

Republicans, on the other hand, strive to find free market solutions, Thompson told Human Events. When President George W. Bush decided that he wanted to support a prescription drug plan that would help seniors buy medicine, Thompson, as the secretary of Health and Human Services, was put in charge of getting it through Congress, he said.

The program, known as Medicare Part D, calls for the federal government to subsidize seniors purchasing drugs, he said. “Ninety percent of seniors approve of the plan and like it, and another 84 percent said that without the benefit, they would have to pay more for their prescription drugs.”

The bill that passed in 2003 was not the typical government-centered program, he said. Part D was set-up as a free market program that allows private companies to compete for the business of providing this supplement to the standard Medicare plan, Thompson said. While other parts of Medicare have runaway cost increases every year, the budget for Plan D is stable, he said. Compared to the original Congressional Budget Office estimates, the programs have saved $440 billion from what the costs were expected to be.

It is not enough to delete the Affordable Care Act and walk away, he said. Republicans must address reform health care, but with the emphasis on market-based solutions.

One serious reform the former governor supports is to end the practice of billing the patient per procedure, rather than per incident, he said. In this way, a patient with a heart attack would be charged for the treatment of his or her condition in a general way with the hospital and doctors incentivized to shepherd the patient with deliberate speed through recovery, without unnecessary treatments and without re-admittance. “The current system encourages doctors to do more procedures in order to be paid more money.”

This approach forces the providers to focus on quality, he said.

Medical diplomacy

Another program the governor said he would work to expand is “medical diplomacy,” a term he coined.

“What I am taking about is that there is a lot of money that we spend foolishly in foreign policy, but where we get the biggest bang for the buck is when we use our overwhelming superiority in our medical scientific base—doctor and hospitals and so on—using medical diplomacy with countries that could really use the help,” he said.

A country that does this well is Cuba, Thompson said. Cuba graduates more doctors than it needs for its own population. These surplus doctors, he remarked, are then sent to other countries in Latin America to help care for their people.

“These countries know that the doctors have been sent by Fidel Castro and Communist Cuba. Now they have a huge power base, not from money, but from the doctors that they export,” he said. “In those countries, there is now a tremendous allegiance to Cuba.”

There is a way for Americans to do the same thing. Two hospital ships in the Navy inventory, USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy are massive floating hospitals fashioned out of former oil tankers. “They have over 1,000 beds on these ships, and the most up-to-date equipment and operating rooms of anywhere in the world,” he said.

Thompson said it would be great to have medical students and or young doctors spend part of their required residency going around the world in these ships, bringing with them superior health care and a positive experience with Americans. “You would have respect and an outpouring of goodwill.”

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