All sides of the current health care debate acknowledge that American health care is in crisis and that changes must be made. But the consensus disappears when it comes to choosing the path toward successful health care reform.

The proposals coming from Washington, D.C., put federal bureaucrats in charge of health care decisions, the fast track to government-run health care. A better approach, rooted in principles of individual freedom and choice, would provide patients with greater access to treatments and medical providers, and less interference from insurance companies, bureaucrats, and politicians.

Expanding the role of government in the health care arena has consistently contributed to higher costs and lower quality care. We need to carefully address America’s healthcare challenges by finding measurable ways to make it more accessible and affordable without jeopardizing quality, individual choice, or personalized care.

Unfortunately, here in Texas, our Legislature attempted this session to go in the opposite direction. By extending continuous eligibility for Medicaid and significantly expanding income eligibility from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, government’s role in health care decisions, restrictions on competition and innovation in health insurance products, and taxpayers’ costs would have greatly increased. Just because the federal government gave the go-ahead to expand government-run, taxpayer-funded programs, Texas should not blindly charge the road to expansion.

The federal government is itself on the road to expanding its role in your health care. The plans being developed in Washington, D.C., include individual and employer mandates that threaten to further cripple our access to quality care, as they force people to have insurance or pay costly penalties. Texans have long cherished individual freedoms and personal choice, yet Texas is among the five most heavily regulated insurance markets in the nation. Most of the over-regulation occurs through mandated benefits; nevertheless, the Texas Legislature imposed even more costly mandates this session. No doubt all of the current 55 mandated benefits were passed with the intent of making health care accessible to more people. Instead, they have actually contributed to the growing uninsured population across the state. Historically, government intervention in the health insurance arena has caused the cost of premiums to rise. In the past five years alone, insurance premiums have risen 40 percent in Texas. Requiring every health insurance policy sold in Texas to cover even more conditions and treatments will not help Texas reduce the cost of health care or the number of uninsured residents.The real alternative to today’s health care system is to remove the layers of government regulation and encourage robust competition among health care services and insurance products. Wherever competition is allowed to flourish, the public stands to benefit from improvements in quality and declines in costs. Americans should be particularly horrified by the concept that a committee of bureaucrats in Washington will decide what health care we receive and when we can receive it. Health care should always be a personal decision between you and your doctor. It should never be dictated by government. The Texas Legislature and U.S. Congress should commit to the principle that doctors and patients should make health care decisions, not some bureaucracy. The path that Congress has recommended thus far will ultimately lead to rationing of care – delays and denials of treatment as is common in other countries with nationalized health care.The British national health system rations care based on age. The Canadian delays for care – even for lifesaving treatments – have been well-documented. And most recently, the Oregon state health plan told a terminally ill cancer patient that it would pay for him to get physician-assisted suicide, but not treatment. Our health care freedoms are truly at stake with the threat of a government-run health care system.

The Texas spirit has always been one that has valued individual freedom and detested government control. Now is not the time, and health care is too personal an issue, to break with that proud tradition.

Andrea Whitman is a health care policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin.