When it comes to healthcare issues, sometimes the cure can be worse than the ailment. Take the case of policymakers in Washington seeking to protect Americans from "greedy" managed-care executives.
Not surprisingly, members of Congress couldn't resist the temptation to respond to widespread complaints over HMO coverage decisions such as so-called drive-through deliveries for new mothers. The result was legislation guaranteeing women a 48-hour maternity stay after a vaginal delivery and 96 hours following a Caesarean section, despite little clinical evidence that extending stays is beneficial. Lawmakers went on to mandate mental health benefit parity as part of the Kassebaum-Kennedy insurance reform bill.
These moves have opened the door to more aggressive federal regulation of health insurance, including ERISA plans started by many employers to evade state regulations.
If common sense doesn't prevail, specialty groups will overrun Capitol Hill seeking mandates and protective legislation that will boost their business. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) already has introduced legislation to mandate minimum stays for mastectomy patients. Chiropractors are involved with 70 other alternative provider groups in an effort to prevent insurers from excluding providers based on their type of license.
Such treatments may be valuable for certain patients, and some insurers may choose to pay for them. But America doesn't need a medical system in which coverage decisions are made by politicians whose main priority is to make points with voters and contributors. Instead, patients, with the help of healthcare professionals, must be educated to make both financial and clinical decisions regarding their own care.