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Opinion Pieces

Government should stop interfering in the doctor-patient relationship

After years as a practicing podiatrist, I came to Congress because I saw people serving in government—who had never taken care of patients—making healthcare decisions that interfere with the trusted and sacred relationship between doctor and patient. For the sake of patient health, Washington needs to get out of these honest and confidential interactions that physicians build with their patients.

Patients should be empowered to have access to the latest innovations and treatments that the American scientific community has to offer.

Government bureaucrats and actuaries see statistics and costs on a spreadsheet. In their process, do they envision an actual patient in need of help? Bureaucrats are not the medical professionals who actually see and know the people they rule over. Providers are ethically and legally responsible for the patients who have entrusted them with their care. Left alone, physicians and patients become a team, together deciding what prescriptions, therapies and treatments are best.

Unfortunately, Washington has seized more medical power from patients and providers than ever, thanks to the so-called Inflation Reduction Act. If the prescription drug price controls in this law had been enacted in the past decade, many of the currently approved therapies might never have made it to market. As someone who has been involved in medical care, I am deeply concerned about the real-world impact that this law will have on patients, especially those waiting for a cure or enhanced treatment.

The Lower Costs More Cures Act of 2021 includes 36 bipartisan provisions that would lower out-of-pocket spending on prescription medications and empower patients’ access to the very best medical therapeutics, diagnostics and technologies, without harming new innovations. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has kept that bill from coming to the floor for a vote, preferring her own agenda. We all want lower drug costs, and we can accomplish that. Innovations save lives and long-term medical costs.

As co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus, I’m always looking for ways to put patients at the center of policy discussions. The full House just passed the Improving Seniors’ Timely Access to Care Act of 2022. This legislation will help ensure that seniors receive the care they need, when they need it. By making needed adjustments and modernizing Medicare Advantage’s “prior authorization” system, physicians can begin to get back to what they do best: caring for and treating their patients without delay.

Physicians recommend a care plan to their patients after thorough examination, testing and a review of their personal medical history. Despite this, in our current system, many insurers demand that patients adhere to “step therapy” protocols, often referred to as “fail first,” resulting in time-consuming and unnecessary delays in care. Instead of receiving what was originally prescribed by the physician who knows the situation best, patients are first forced to try alternative treatments. This can be very dangerous. Fellow physician Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California) and I have introduced the bipartisan Safe Step Act, which would provide guardrails by requiring insurance companies to have a clear and rapid process to allow coverage for the medication or treatment that is best for the patient.

Other healthcare-related proposals have broad bipartisan support, which I hope Congress will focus on over the next several months, including taking decisive action to secure our medical supply chain.

In most circles, talking about “healthcare” focuses on insurance plans, not actual health. Aside from suicides and overdoses, the U.S. does well as far as extending your “lifespan.” We all win when we also focus on “healthspan”—keeping people as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Extending your healthspan requires being proactive as well as reactive. It’s important to incentivize prevention, early diagnosis and treatment. Being well saves lives and dollars.

Enhancing and empowering the physician-patient relationship is better for our health, as individuals and as a nation. It can be done.

This piece originally ran in Modern Healthcare.