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Don’t operate without tests

March 16, 2008
The Altoona Mirror
State officials should find out if the cure is worse than the disease before doing drastic surgery on the way Pennsylvania tries to cover the uninsured.

On Monday, state representatives are expected to approve a measure aimed at providing health coverage to about 800,000 uninsured Pennsylvanians.

It’s a laudable goal. But the way the House is operating is akin to a surgeon doing open-heart surgery without previously seeing the patient or having any pretesting done to understand the particulars of the problem, what complications might come up, whether it could exacerbate the trouble or whether it could cause harmful side effects.

Patients wouldn’t be willing to accept those actions from a doctor, and we shouldn’t accept it from our lawmakers.

Senate Bill 1137 was approved by the Senate Oct. 30 as a method of extending the state’s system for helping doctors with their malpractice insurance costs.

But on Tuesday, House Democrats filed a major revision of the bill that added a plan to offer health care coverage for uninsured residents. Most representatives never saw the amended measure until Tuesday afternoon, and the House leadership limited the chance to offer amendments.

Debate started minutes later. On Wednesday, after nine hours of debate and without any committee hearings on the specifics of the bill’s added proposals, the amended SB 1137 was approved 114-81 on second consideration.

That’s not the way our state legislature should be operating, especially on a matter that could have a huge impact on taxpayers.

Taxpayers deserve to see the numbers on what this program will cost — not just in its first year but also projections for 10 or 20 years down the line — as well as the funding sources.

The federal government projected recently that spending on health care is expected to double in the next decade. Pennsylvanians deserve to know whether SB 1137 is sustainable, especially without big tax increases.

The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the coverage being proposed is more than the state currently offers under its adultBasic program for uninsured adults because it also includes prescriptions, behavioral health, management of chronic diseases and prevention and wellness.

Already the adultBasic program has 80,000 people on a waiting list because of limits on funding. How is Pennsylvania — really, its taxpayers — going to be able to afford adding hundreds of thousands of people to the rolls and offering better coverage?

Shouldn’t we be having hearings to find out before passing the measure? Shouldn’t we have hearings to find out whether this could encourage private employers to drop their coverage and basically tell their workers to go on the state’s program? Shouldn’t we have hearings to look at whether this really will cure the problem?

It appears most state representatives are ready to put taxpayers under the knife without knowing whether the problem is with the heart or the gall bladder. That’s bad medicine and bad policy.

Trying to find ways of covering the uninsured is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. But we need to look at all of the options, the risks and the rewards before taking a course of action.

If lawmakers are afraid of putting their proposal through the presurgical testing of public hearings, the taxpayers of Pennsylvania should be worried.

We expect our doctors to act responsibly. We should demand our legislators operate in the same manner.

Table action on SB 1173 until we know what to expect.

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