Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says Congress would commit "malpractice in governance" if it forces employers to provide health insurance to all employees who work more than 17.5 hours a week.

Hatch's nemesis, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., plans to introduce such legislation soon to make insurance more universally available. Kennedy is chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee - which oversees health issues - and Hatch is its ranking Republican.Hatch told a group of neurosurgeons Monday that Kennedy's bill is simply treating symptoms, not the disease, and may kill the patient. Hatch doesn't want such a "quick fix" but instead a complicated, multifaceted treatment for woes in health care.

Hatch said Kennedy's approach "is the equivalent to placing the patient on pain medication and sending him home, rather than spending the time to properly diagnose the problem so the patient can be cured."

Hatch said Kennedy's bill might destroy many jobs because employers could no longer afford to provide them if they would also have to pay for insurance.

Hatch proposed several different steps instead to help expand health care, including: working to solve the medical liability crisis; expanding prevention efforts; allowing all Americans to deduct health costs on taxes; and providing improved direct governmental assistance to those who need it.

Of particular note, Hatch said one unnecessary reason behind high health care and insurance costs is malpractice suits.

"The malpractice crisis affects the cost of health care in two ways. First, the increased cost of the liability insurance must be passed on to the payer. And, second, providers perform unnecessary tests and procedures in an effort to protect themselves from liability."

He said solutions to that include giving doctors with excellent health care records lower malpractice insurance rates; giving hospitals more protection so they can remove incompetent doctors without fear of lawsuits; and creating federally recognized standards of care that would be an admissible defense against malpractice.

If such standards of care were adopted, "No longer would we be confronted with the proverbial battle of the expert witnesses. Given recognized standards of care, malpractice liability could be reduced, or even eliminated if such standards are followed."

Hatch concluded, "It is time we stopped looking for the quick fix . . . Congress will itself be guilty of malpractice in governance if all we do is mandate employer-provided health insurance. We need to analyze all the interlocking parts of this issue before rushing to enact a poorly conceived, badly structured, exorbitantly priced federal law."