WASHINGTON, D.C. | June 23, 2009 -
America is facing a crisis in our health care system. Costs are spiraling out of control, leaving families, employers, and taxpayers to shoulder the burden.
Health care spending today accounts for approximately one-sixth of our economy — more than any other industry. That’s up from 13.8 percent of GDP in 2000 and 5.2 percent in 1960.
Millions of Americans have limited coverage or no coverage at all. Some of them, particularly young adults, voluntarily choose not to secure coverage – whether from a youthful sense of invincibility or an understandable skepticism that the cost is not worth the benefit. Still others are eligible for coverage through their job, but choose – for a variety of reasons – not to enroll. Many of the uninsured work for small businesses, which cannot achieve the efficiencies or economies of scale of larger employers. As a result, their costs are much higher – often too high for both the small business owner and the worker.
I could go on, but the point is simple: the root causes of the high rate of uninsured Americans are many and varied – as are the reasons for the sustained increase in costs for those who are covered.
The solution, however, is far from simple. A one-size-fits-all approach will not eliminate the problem or its root causes.
Yet here we are this afternoon looking at the very definition of a one-size-fits-all approach: a health care system increasingly controlled and administered by the federal government. This draft legislation, as far as I can tell, fails to address many of the structural flaws at the root of our current crisis.
President Obama has pledged, and I quote, “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”
But the Congressional Budget Office projects that 23 million Americans would lose their current coverage under a plan being debated in the U.S. Senate. Ideas in the bill before us, such as the national health exchange, would shift millions of Americans out of their current coverage and into a government-run plan. It might be the 23 million in the Senate plan. It might be more. We just don’t know.
What we do know about the Democrats’ plan is that it increases the role of the federal government through a new, government-run plan and an expansion of Medicaid. With government spending on health care already exploding, and the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs already on the road to insolvency, I can’t imagine the reasoning behind intensifying the stress placed on these programs.
Employers are struggling to maintain coverage for their workers at a time when costs continue to rise and the economy continues to flail. But rather than offer relief, the Democrats’ plan saddles employers with a “pay or play” scheme that threatens harsh financial sanctions and puts jobs at risk.
This may be my first hearing as the Education and Labor Committee’s Senior Republican, but today, we’re all first-timers. In fact, this is the very first hearing on health care reform held by the full committee in the 111th Congress.
And unfortunately, it may be the only hearing before the Democrats’ plan is marked up. Speaker Pelosi announced earlier this year that a health care overhaul would be voted on in the House before the August district work period. That doesn’t give us much time for a serious debate.
That’s too bad, Mr. Chairman, because this is a very serious issue. It deserves a real debate. The American people deserve an opportunity to weigh in. But you haven’t allowed that to happen.
The so-called Tri-Committee draft is 852 pages. It was released on a Friday afternoon. Perhaps most troubling, today’s hearing is taking place when many Members of Congress are still in their congressional districts or on their way back to Washington.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Last week, the Republican Health Care Solutions Group released a plan that we believe could serve as the basis of a bipartisan reform package.
It contains commonsense solutions, such as allowing children to remain covered by their parents’ plans until they reach age 25 and making it easier for Americans to get health coverage when they lose or change jobs.
It makes these changes while maintaining and improving upon the parts of the system that function well. Of particular interest to this committee, the GOP plan keeps much of the ERISA-based system in place, which would enable Americans who like their current coverage – many of whom receive it through their employer – to keep what they have.
But as much as I support the principles of the Republican plan, I wish we didn’t need to frame this debate in partisan terms. Health care reform is far too important for partisan gamesmanship. It is also far too important to rush.
Today may be our first hearing, but I hope it won’t be our last. The proposal we are debating today is clearly partisan, but I continue to believe that Republicans and Democrats can – and should – come together to develop an American plan that will make health care more affordable, reduce the number of uninsured Americans, and increase quality at a price our country can afford.
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