Republicans need a health care program

Republicans need a health care program

Republicans won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. However, it wasn’t the red wave that everyone was so breathless about.

The deflated results are directly tied to Republicans’ lack of a meaningful health agenda.


I started my career as a nurse, and combined with my experience of having a chronically ill sister and caring for two parents who lived into their 80s and 90s, I know how to how health care affects all of us, sick and healthy. This hurts job creators like small business owners who have to pay higher premiums. It hurts our elders at the pharmacy counter.

Now that Republicans have been given the hammer, they must consider a new health care agenda — not one that simply rebuts the Biden administration, but rather one that spells out clearly how they address public concerns. Nearly 90% of voters said a candidate’s plan to cut health care costs would be “very important” or “somewhat important” when voting. Health care affordability is on the minds of voters.

I arrived in Congress in 2010 under the Obama administration as part of a much larger red wave – the biggest House swing since 1948. We ran fearing the Affordable Care Act would increase the health care cost.

We were right. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, health care costs have only risen. Premiums alone skyrocketed 66%. Without some sort of cure, this trend will continue. Willis Towers Watson reports that 70% of employers expect “moderate” to “significant” cost increases over the next three years. Ordinary people, as well as executives, are sounding the alarm that health spending is on an unsustainable trajectory.

People are not just facing rising health care costs, but also rising gas and food prices. They have less money in their pocket, which means they have less choice and less freedom to choose how they pursue many of the necessary things in their lives. Tough times can require some really tough choices.

Health is not a niche issue. It is tied to inflation and virtually every other aspect of the economy. Republicans must understand this concept and act to restore the trust of ordinary people. Right now, voters trust Democrats over Republicans on health care by a whopping 20 percentage points.

We have to completely reconsider the old health care program. The recent ideas proposed are either too big to work or too small to have an effect.

Health savings accounts are good, but they are not the answer to our affordability crisis. Mark Cuban has some exciting plans to make generic drugs more affordable, but he hasn’t figured out how to reduce the cost of brand name drugs. There’s the prospect of a Netflix-style subscription service for primary care doctors, but that won’t help specialist doctors or their patients with complicated diagnoses.

The Conservatives need to make it very clear to voters that we will protect access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. We need a realistic plan – a plan that works in the system to reduce costs. This would involve a program guided by proven market competition and a patient/consumer centered approach.

To that end, I offer a simple litmus test. When reviewing healthcare policies, legislators should ask themselves, “Would this policy enable the private sector to reduce overall healthcare costs?” If the answer is “yes”, then consider moving forward. Here are three examples to start with.

First, review the Food and Drug Administration. Price controls must go. By fixing the patent system and letting more biosimilars come to market, we can stimulate competition and push manufacturers to lower their list prices. It keeps the government’s finger off the scales and gives patients choices at much more reasonable prices.

Second, confront the hospital monopolies. Hospitals with dominant status can demand almost anything they want from patients. Everyone has a story about a crazy bill received either by themselves or by someone they know. Increased competition would increase transparency and hinder the bogus regulations that hospitals use to consolidate.

Third, there are 67,000 community pharmacists in America, many of whom earn six-figure salaries. (By comparison, there are 18,000 Starbucks.) They’re successful and don’t need additional government protections. It is never wise for government to pick winners and losers.

Electorally, the Republican Party can no longer avoid health care affordability. Neither can the country afford it. If Republicans are to win back people’s trust, they must address the very real concerns that voters face.


Ann Marie Buerkle is a former nurse and congresswoman who served as commissioner and acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Follow on Twitter: @annmbuerkle.

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