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Let freedom cure health-care ills

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Forty-two million Americans have no health insurance coverage. Those who do have little freedom and few choices about the health care they receive. The resulting frustrations are boiling over on Capitol Hill. But the so-called "patient's bill of rights" is not the answer. The real solution is not to expand the size, scope and cost of government but to expand individual freedom to choose alternatives.

Here's an idea: Why doesn't someone in Congress propose a "Patient's Declaration of Independence?" Let's see Congress pass a bold, dramatic, inspiring package of legislation that cuts through all the Jurassic Park-era red tape and gives every American more freedom to choose doctors they trust, specialists they need and prescription drugs they can afford.

True security comes from having true freedom — not simply the freedom to sue a health-care provider but the freedom to choose a different, better, more responsive health-care provider to begin with.

The dramatic increases in government regulation at the state and national levels are steadily driving up the cost of health insurance, pricing many people out of the market.

A study by the Heritage Foundation and Galen Institute found that the 16 states that most aggressively increased health-care regulations in the 1990s "experienced an average annual growth in their uninsured population eight times that of the other 34."

Here, then, are some of the positive reforms a "Patient's Declaration of Independence" could bring about:

Medicare freedom: It's time to reform Medicare along the lines proposed by Sen. John Breaux, D.-La., and Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Let's give every senior the freedom to choose from a wide range of private health insurance options tailored to meet unique, specific needs. That's what congressmen and federal bureaucrats have.

Prescription drug freedom: Instead of creating a massive and incredibly expensive government-run prescription drug benefit for all seniors — even though most seniors already have private drug coverage — Galen Institute president Grace-Marie Turner proposes a "Prescription Drug Security Card." It would work like a debit card and give low-income seniors without drug benefits the freedom and the means to purchase the pharmaceuticals they need.

Tax freedom: To reduce the number of Americans without health insurance, let's create refundable tax credits of up to $3,000 per family so those who are uninsured have the freedom to purchase health insurance when their employer does not offer insurance.

Steve Forbes first introduced the idea of a "Patient's Declaration of Independence" during the GOP primaries in 1999. He lost, but his idea is a winner. More freedom is better than more lawsuits. The question is: Who in Congress is willing to champion freedom as the cure to the health-care ills our country now suffers?

Art Linkletter, veteran of TV, is national spokesman for United Seniors Association Inc. He can be e-mailed at UnitedSeniors@aol.com.