Statement on the Treat Physicians Fairly Act
August 2, 2007
Madame Speaker, I rise today to introduce the Treat Physicians Fairly Act, legislation providing tax credits to physicians to compensate for the costs of providing uncompensated care. This legislation helps compensate medical professionals for the costs imposed on them by federal laws forcing doctors to provide uncompensated medical care. The legislation also provides a tax deduction for hospitals who incur costs related to providing uncompensated care.
Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) physicians who work in emergency rooms, as well as the hospitals, are required to provide care without seeking compensation to anyone who comes into an emergency room. Thus, EMTLA forces medical professionals and hospitals to bear the entire cost of caring for the indigent. According to the June 2/9, 2003 edition of AM News, emergency physicians lose an average of $138,000 per year because of EMTLA. EMTALA also forces physicians and hospitals to follow costly rules and regulations, and can be fined $50,000 for failure to be in technical compliance with EMTALA!
Forcing physicians to offer their services without providing any form of compensation is a blatant violation of the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment. After all, the professional skills with which one’s earns a living are a form of property. Therefore, legislation, such as EMTALA, which forces individuals to use their professional skills without compensation is a taking of private property. Regardless of whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to establish programs providing free-or-reduced health care for the indignant, the clear language of the takings clause prevents Congress from placing the entire burden of these programs on the medical profession.
Ironically, the perceived need to force doctors to provide medical care is itself the result of prior government interventions into the health care market. When I began practicing, it was common for doctors to provide uncompensated care as a matter of charity. However, government laws and regulations inflating the cost of medical services and imposing unreasonable liability standards on medical professionals even when they where acting in a volunteer capacity made offering free care cost prohibitive. At the same time, the increase health care costs associated with the government-facilitated over-reliance in third party payments priced more and more people out of the health care market. Thus, the government responded to problems created by their interventions by imposing EMTALA mandate on physicians, in effect making the health care profession scapegoats for the unintended consequences of failed government health care polices.
EMTALA itself is having unintended consequences that could result in less care availability for low-income Americans at emergency rooms. This is because EMTALA provides a disincentive for physicians form offering any emergency care. Many physicians have told me in my district that they are considering curtail their practices, in part because of the costs associated with the EMTALA mandates. Many other physicians are even counseling younger people against entering the medical profession because of the way the federal government treats medical professionals! The tax credit of the Treat Physicians Fairly Act will help mitigate some of these unintended consequences.
The Treat Physicians Fairly Act does not remove any of EMTALA’s mandates; it simply provides that physicians can receive a tax credit for the costs of providing uncompensated care. This is a small step toward resorting fairness to the physicians. Furthermore, by providing some compensation in the form of tax credits, the Treat Physicians Fairly Act helps remove the dincentives to remaining active in the medical profession built into the current EMTALA law. I hope my colleagues will take the first step toward removing the unconstitutional burden of providing uncompensated care by cosponsoring the Treat Physicians Fairly Act.