WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 10, 2009
This morning’s hearing continues our work – which we began in the 110th Congress – in addressing many of the issues confronting our nation’s health care system, including efforts to improve health care quality, access, and affordability.
An important lesson we learned during the last Congress was that, though imperfect, the employer-based health care system has been successful in many ways. As we try to address weaknesses in the current system, we must be careful not to undermine a voluntary approach that provides the most common form of health care coverage for individuals and workers below retirement age.
The current employer-based system delivers high quality coverage for approximately 160 million Americans. American businesses are true innovators when it comes to improving the health care system. Private sector employers are leading efforts to help people improve their health through wellness and disease management programs, improving the quality of health care, and helping people learn the true costs of medical services.
The driver behind the successes of the employment-based system is the federal ERISA law. The existence of ERISA, and its preemption of state insurance laws, means that American businesses can provide uniform, high quality benefits to all their employees across state lines. And that means companies don’t have to worry about following 50 different sets of rules in order to offer insurance, which prevents headaches and saves money.
Notwithstanding the successes of ERISA, employers, employees, and their families are very concerned about rising health care costs. While we explore solutions, I want to caution against proposals that would undermine ERISA by pulling one string at a time. However well-intentioned, doing so would be an invitation to add benefit mandates and increase taxes on employers, which would likely stifle job creation and seriously undermine employers’ ability to provide efficient, affordable health care coverage. At the same time, I would be remiss to not recognize the fact that ERISA stands at the crossroads of health care reform, which makes it all the more important that we do not unravel the system, but rather initiate comprehensive reform. Finally, attempting to define “good” actors and “bad” actors in the employer-sponsored system is fraught with danger.
When we explore the issue of the uninsured, we must be mindful of the dangers of assigning a one-size fits all solution may be difficult because of the different characteristics within a given population. For example, millions of people who already qualify for government programs have failed to take advantage of that coverage for a wide variety of reasons. Creating costly new programs to insure such people – which would come on top of existing federal and state subsidies for uncompensated care, may not be necessary or wise.
In addition, we must not forget that this Committee has taken the lead in efforts to improve the current system – including efforts to help small businesses obtain affordable health coverage comparable to that provided by larger companies. Private, voluntary efforts to control health care cost growth and improve quality can be accomplished more quickly than using government programs, and should be encouraged. I am hopeful we can continue to work together to reach consensus on measures to provide more affordable and efficient ways of providing health care benefits.
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