Floor Statement Urging Passage of Health Care Reform
Mr. President, I think it is important to focus on the fiscal difficulties we have today, but I think it is also important to recognize the probable causes of these huge deficits: two wars, unfunded, no attempt to fund them, spent simply by running up the deficit; tax cuts, which were unfunded and which did not ultimately generate the kind of sustained economic growth and job growth that their supporters advertised, and then the Medicare Part D program, an entitlement program which was also completely unpaid for.
Today we have people talking about entitlement reform, how that is a key aspect of health reform. But so many of my colleagues on the Republican side supported President Bush when he proposed the Medicare Part D program, a worthy program in concept, but in the context of not paying for it, it is a concept that is costing us greatly today.
Additionally, it is particularly ironic at this moment, because we are considering a McCain motion that would report this health care bill back to the committee with the instructions to restore $400 billion in spending, roughly, over 10 years. I cannot think of anything more contrary to the notion of entitlement reform.
What we have tried to do in this bill is to restructure Medicare so that it will continue providing quality health care, but also recognize the high costs we are facing going forward and the general economic climate we face today. Again, let me remind you, in January 2001, the unemployment rate was about 4.6 percent. When President Obama took office, it was double that and growing and continuing to grow.
We have seen some effects to limit this growth, but it is still a critical issue. Again, this reform package is designed not only to deal with the quality of health care, accessibility to health care, and affordability of health care, but it is designed to, over the long term, begin to rein in costs that are absolutely out of control.
Those suffering the most from this course are the American people and, in some respects, small business men and women. Their health care costs are going up faster than any other costs, and in many instances faster than wages, and it is unsustainable.
If in my State of Rhode Island we do not take effective action, we will see within several years premiums reaching $24,000 to $30,000 a year for a family of four. We cannot sustain that.
If someone is interested in taking the very difficult step of entitlement reform, they would reject the McCain motion. But there are other reasons to reject the amendment, as well. First, the funding that has been eliminated from the current health care system and the system going forward, has been eliminated because it does not improve care. This is particularly true in Medicare Advantage.
This was a program that was developed and sold essentially to the American people as cost containment for Medicare. This was one of the proposals that would rein in out-of-control health care costs by giving insurance companies the ability to manage more effectively.
Of course, what we have seen is a significant increase in payments to Medicare Advantage payments over traditional Medicare. Of course, these insurance companies can manage health care very well as long as they are receiving very significant premium payments from beneficiaries. But, those premiums do not essentially go to better health care. It certainly goes, however, to better profits for the insurance companies.
Indeed, with Medicare Advantage there is a rebate given to each insurance company. This is not the case with traditional Medicare. The rebate was designed essentially to provide, again, lower cost access to health care benefits for the consumers of Medicare Advantage.
The GAO found that 19 percent of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries actually pay more than traditional Medicare for home health care and 16 percent pay more for inpatient services. Here is the irony. We are paying the insurance companies more, but the beneficiaries of Medicare Advantage are, indeed, are also paying more. So there is no cost savings in this regard, in this program at least.
The other point, which is I think critical and I alluded to, is that for the same services you receive in Medicare Advantage, there is, on average, a 14-percent increase overall for those similar services in traditional Medicare.
We have to, I think, take tough steps to eliminate these over-payments, but steps that will enhance the quality of care for seniors, and that is what is being done in this bill. While some of these resources are being used to help redesign a system for all Americans, there will also be significant improvements for seniors, for care that is more effective and efficient, and less costly.
Let me suggest something else. We are all paying right now for the cost of uninsured Americans. It has been estimated that every private insurance plan in this country is paying--every individual payer, businesses or individual--about $1,000 a year for uncompensated care. That is the cost hospitals shift from their uncompensated care on to the insurance providers, the carriers, and that is translated into higher premiums for all Americans.
Under this legislation, the hospitals will now see patients presenting themselves with an insurance card. Mr. President, over 94 percent of Americans, it has been estimated, will be covered under our proposal. So instead of showing up for free care, they will be under an insurance plan. The hospitals will benefit. Medicare, Medicaid, and the whole health care system will benefit.
Again, this is one of the changes that would be reversed by the McCain motion.
Also, we have taken steps so that hospitals will be much more effective in managing their patient flow. Readmissions will hopefully be reduced by some of the provisions in this legislation.
There are many things we should do and will do, but I believe we can successfully balance expanding our coverage system, protecting quality of care, but also recognizing, as has been suggested, the fiscal implications not just for the moment but going forward. I suggest if someone is serious about entitlement control, serious about the fiscal implications of this legislation or any other legislation, they will not simply order the committee to restore these cuts. They would do something much more proactive and, indeed, support what I believe are sensible, sound proposals to provide quality, to ensure that over the long run, Medicare is more solvent.
In fact--the final point--the legislation before us would extend the life of Medicare, the solvency of Medicare over at least 5 years. So for those people who say we are trying to end Medicare, their solution is simply to let it go bankrupt apparently in 2017 or to simply ignore it and let it find its own fate.
We can do better. I urge rejection of the McCain motion. I yield the floor.