Republicans need a healthcare agenda


Doctor in hospital background with copy space
Doctor in hospital background with copy space. Healthcare and medical concept. (NanoStockk/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Republicans need a healthcare agenda

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Republicans have won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. However, it was not the red wave everyone was so breathless about.

The deflated results are directly linked to the Republicans’ lack of a meaningful healthcare agenda.


I started my career as a nurse, and combined with my experience having a chronically ill sister and taking care of two parents who lived well into their 80s and 90s, I know how healthcare affects every one of us, the sick and healthy alike. It harms job creators, such as small-business owners who have to pay higher premiums. It hurts our seniors at the pharmacy counter.

Now that the Republicans have been handed the gavel, they must consider a new healthcare agenda — not an agenda that simply rebuts the Biden administration, but rather one that clearly sets forth how they address the public’s concerns. Nearly 90% of voters said a candidate’s plan for reducing the cost of healthcare would be “very important” or “somewhat important” when casting ballots. Healthcare affordability is on the minds of voters.

I came to Congress in 2010 during the Obama administration as part of a much larger red wave — the largest House swing since 1948. We ran on concerns that the Affordable Care Act would raise the cost of healthcare.

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

People are not only dealing with increased healthcare costs, but also the increased price of gas and food. They have less money in their pocket, which means they have fewer choices and less freedom to choose how they pursue many of the necessary things in their lives. Hard times can require really hard choices.

Healthcare is not a niche issue. It’s connected to inflation and virtually every other aspect of the economy. Republicans need to understand that concept and act to restore the trust of everyday people. Right now, voters trust Democrats over Republicans on healthcare by a whopping 20-percentage-point margin.

We need to completely reconsider the old healthcare agenda. The recent ideas offered are either too big to work or too small to have any effect.

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

Conservatives must make it abundantly clear to voters that we will protect access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. We need a realistic plan — one that operates within the system to lower costs. That would entail an agenda that’s guided by tried-and-true market competition and a patient/consumer-first approach.

To that end, I propose a simple litmus test. When considering healthcare policies, lawmakers must ask: “Would this policy empower the private sector to lower overall healthcare costs?” If the answer is “yes,” then let’s consider moving forward. Here are three examples to get started.

First, overhaul the Food and Drug Administration. Price controls have to go. By fixing the patent system and letting more biosimilar drugs come to market, we can boost competition and push manufacturers to bring down their list price. It keeps the finger of government off of the scale and gives patients far more reasonably priced choices.

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

Third, there are 67,000 community pharmacists in America, many of whom earn a six-figure salary. (By comparison, there are 18,000 Starbucks.) They are succeeding and do not need additional government protections. It is never wise for the government to pick winners and losers.

Electorally, the Republican Party can’t avoid healthcare affordability any longer. The country can’t afford it either. If Republicans want to regain 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 the commissioner and acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Follow on Twitter: @annmbuerkle.

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