Health care industry insiders doing battle in GOP primary

Hank Hayes • Jun 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Second in a series

One thing is certain about the 1st Congressional District GOP primary: The winner will be a health care industry insider.

Republican challenger Phil Roe, Johnson City’s mayor, is a retired obstetrician/gynecologist with a physician’s perspective.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. David Davis, a health care business owner, thinks about health care like a small business owner.

While neither favor a government-backed single-payer national health care plan, the two primary rivals have their own ideas about creating more choices beyond employer-based health insurance coverage.

To put today’s health care system in context, Roe said that his parents paid $50 for his birth, and that when he graduated from medical school in 1970, there were five anti-hypertension drugs.

“There’s now 50 maybe 100 (anti-hypertension drugs),” he said. “Almost every day somebody got operated on for an ulcer, and you never see that happen anymore because it is treated medically. ... In 1907 life expectancy was 47 (years old). Today it is in the low 80s for women and high 70s for men.”

Roe said he has his own health care savings account.

“In my case it is $5,600 a year. You pay that out of pocket, so I’m encouraged to take care of myself,” he explained. “If I don’t spend that money I roll it over into an account that I keep the money. If I go through several years and don’t have any health issues, I’ve piled up a bunch of money that I can use for long-term health care and make my own health care decisions.”

Davis advocates associated health plans so small businesses can band together and create large insurance pools.

“They want to do the right thing,” Davis said of small business owners. “But they don’t want to be mandated to provide health insurance if they can’t afford it.”

Davis said the other measure he is “really going to concentrate on” is legislation offering tax credits to families to offset the cost of health insurance.

“The individual should own their health insurance, and the patient and doctor should make individual health care decisions, not some insurance agency,” Davis stressed. “If you work for a large corporation, the corporation receives tax incentives to provide health care, but if you work for a small company or you own a small company or you are unemployed, you don’t get that same tax benefit.”

Roe said he wants more integration of personal responsibility in the nation’s health care system. He pointed to Johnson City programs teaching kids early about healthy lifestyles and the city’s self-funded health plan putting employees through ongoing health assessments.

“Twenty-four percent of the jobs in Johnson City and Washington County are health care related, and this will only get bigger,” Roe said.

Roe also noted he favors importing federally approved generic drugs from Canada or England to compete in the United States and lower costs.

He is for more scrutiny of direct marketing by the prescription drug industry and insists America needs a national program to encourage young people to go into medicine.

“Half of the registered nurses in this nation can retire within the next 10 years,” Roe said. “In the next 10 to 12 years, there will be more physicians retiring or dying than we are producing in this country. ... Access to care is extremely important.”

Davis and Roe agree the federal government needs to get control of Medicare spending.

Davis has signed on to legislation calling for stabilization of Medicare payments to physicians.

“What we do in the future really will come from the executive branch,” Davis said. “Whoever the next president may be, there will be change in health care.”

For more about Davis go to www.rightforcongress.com.

For more about Roe go to www.roe4congress.com.

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