We want a system that will cure breast cancer

If you had a 12 percent chance of contracting cancer, what would you do?

That’s the situation all women face as the National Cancer Institute estimates that one out of eight women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lives. In 2009, 192,370 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, up from 178,480 new cases in 2007.

The good news is that the U.S. survival rate from breast cancer has slowly improved over the past several years, due in part to early detection and increasingly sophisticated treatments. In 2009, an estimated 40,170 women will die from breast cancer, compared to 40,460 women in 2007.

This is a small improvement, but an important one. Today, there are over 2.5 million survivors in the U.S., and if advances in research continue, survival rates are sure to rise higher in the future.

Finding a cure for breast cancer is a cause close to my organization, the Independent Women’s Forum. We lost our founder and a colleague to the disease.

That’s one of the many reasons that we are concerned about current proposals to radically alter the U.S. health care system: These proposals could jeopardize important advances in treatment, to the detriment not only of American women but of women around the world.

Currently, America leads the world in much of the medical research arena in part because our country is one of the few places that reward those who invest in developing new treatments and technologies. While some may try to demonize the profit motive, the desire for a big payoff fuels investment and enables scientists to focus on bringing the next groundbreaking treatment to market.

As the government seeks to squeeze money from the system, investors will have less of an incentive to pour their resources into this kind of research.

The Obama administration’s plans call for the establishment of a Health Benefits Advisory Committee to determine the coverage that Americans must have, creating a one-size-fits-all health insurance marketplace. The government’s “Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research” would be charged with analyzing available treatments to determine which are “efficient” and which are not.

As government tries to reduce health care costs, it will do more than just limit the treatments available. Officials will also limit what doctors, hospitals and companies get paid. This means that, as is the case with Medicare and Medicaid, many reimbursement rates will be below cost. As a result, many people will leave (or never enter) the medical profession, again damaging the quality of care. 

Our health care system needs reform. But we need reforms that will put power in the hands of individuals and create a more robust health insurance marketplace. Right now, people have little control over choosing their health insurance because we depend on employers to provide our healthcare.

Why is that? It’s because employers — but not individuals — purchasing health insurance receive tax breaks. As a result, those out of work or the self-employed have a more difficult time obtaining ­insurance.

So policymakers should start there. Change tax laws so that individual and employer-provided health insurance operate on a level playing field. This would make insurance more affordable for those in the individual market and decouple insurance from employment status.

Policymakers can also make insurance less expensive by eliminating regulations that prevent individuals from buying policies from other states. Instead of creating costly new mandates about what insurance policies “must” contain, policymakers should remove such regulations.

That would allow insurers to offer a variety of insurance options so that people can choose one that makes sense for their personal situation. What we don’t need is to reform health care in ways that will destroy what’s best about our current system — the high quality of care and the development of innovative treatments.

Women everywhere should be on notice: You have a one-in-eight chance of getting breast cancer. And that’s just one disease. We don’t need bigger government, we need a system that provides the best care and the most hope for cures.

Michelle D. Bernard is the president and chief executive officer of the Independent Women’s Forum and Independent Women’s Voice. Also, Bernard is author of “Women’s Progress: How Women and Are Wealthier, Healthier and More Independent Than Ever Before” and is an MSNBC political analyst and a Sunday columnist with The Examiner.

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