Common ground lost in the health debate (Rep. Mike Rogers)

As Congress and the nation continue to debate health care reform, some obvious common ground seems to have gotten lost in the heat and noise of the debate. 

Hundreds of Members of Congress have sponsored or cosponsored a wide variety of bills designed to build on and improve the current system.  And in his address to the Joint Session of Congress, President Obama’s offered his rhetorical support for a number of issues where there easily could be bipartisan legislative agreement.

That is why last week I introduced health care reform legislation, the American Health Care Solutions Act, a compilation of ideas and reforms for the problems we can all agree need to be fixed: insurance reform, the uninsured, and rising costs.


Misrepresenting rural Americans in the politics of healthcare reform

Jean Chaude from Belgrade, Maine, has health insurance.  As a small business entrepreneur, Jean used to sell antiques and volunteer with her church until she developed chronic arthritis and pulmonary problems.  She buys private insurance, for which her premiums have risen 80 percent in the last four years and she has a $5,000 deductible.  She quickly meets her deductible because just one of her medicines costs $1,800 a month—with insurance.  In Maine where, like many heavily rural states, private insurance companies enjoy little or no competition, it’s no wonder that even with insurance, Jean has $12,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses each year.  Recently, Jean had to move out of her house and into an efficiency apartment.  She took out her ever first credit card to cover medical costs.  And still she regularly skips doses of medicine because she simply can’t afford the care she needs.
There are millions of Jeans in rural communities across the United States.  A recent report, “Sweet the Bitter Drought: Why Rural America Needs Health Care Reform,” released by the Center for Community Change and the Center for Rural Affairs, documents that while our broken health care system is affecting all Americans, rural Americans are disproportionately impacted.  Rural Americans are more likely to be uninsured or under-insured than their urban counterparts and 82 percent of rural counties are classified as medically underserved areas.   The report leaves little question that rural Americans like Jean have perhaps the most to gain from health care reform.


New study reveals hidden one-two punch of money to lawmakers From Health Industry

At this point in the debate, it’s no surprise to anyone that health care companies are spending a lot in order to have their say on the upcoming legislation. In fact, the Center for Responsive Politics’ data has been a main source for stories about the money behind their influence. What IS a surprise -- or at least it was to us -- is how many of their hired guns on K Street were also directing money to the very same targets in Congress.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and author of the critical health care reform bill now being debated in the Senate, was one of the biggest beneficiaries of a one-two punch of campaign contributions from lobbyists and their health industry clients, the Sunlight Foundation and Center for Responsive Politics found in a collaborative investigation.


Follow your nose? Follow better nutrition guidelines (Rep. Rosa DeLauro)

As we face an epidemic of obesity across our nation, it is more important than ever that American families are able to get the nutrition information they need upfront to make sound and healthy diet decisions, especially for their children.

That is why I was astounded recently to find that Froot Loops, a sugary cereal if there ever was one, qualified for the “Smart Choices” label, a proprietary front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labeling system. Indeed, Froot Loops has been promoting the Smart Choices label and claiming explicitly that the cereal is a healthy food option for children. It, in fact, is not.

Upon further review of the criteria, I was alarmed to discover that breakfast cereals may contain up to 40 percent refined sugar, or 12 grams per one-ounce serving, to qualify for the Smart Choices label.  This amount of sugar in cereal should not be considered a healthy option for children.


The Big Question, Sept. 29: Is the GOP pushback on Medicare cuts good policy or clever politics?

Michael Cannon, the director of Health Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, said:

Republicans are demagoguing Democrats’ efforts to restrain Medicare spending, and their demagoguery will come back to haunt them. Of course, depending on the year, one could switch the words “Republican” and “Democrat,” and the previous sentence would be equally true. Today’s Republican demagoguery is just desserts for how President Obama demagogued John McCain’s proposed/assumed reductions in Medicare spending. Yet Republicans should be waging a more principled attack. “Yes, we must restrain Medicare spending. But Congress should use the savings to reduce the deficit, not to give private insurance companies an $800 billion bailout. Rather than restrain spending through the Democrats’ preferred tools of price controls, exchange controls, and bureaucratic rationing – which can reduce spending but increase costs – Congress should give each senior a fixed voucher and the freedom to choose a health plan that provides the coverage and medical care that they want. Medicare vouchers are the only way to protect seniors from government rationing.”

Tom McClusky, senior vice president for FRC Action, said:

"Clever politics" strikes me as a very good oxymoron. There is a big difference to when the Republicans suggested reduced future spending on Medicare and to what the Democrats are suggesting now, actual cuts to existing programs under Medicare. The director of the non-partisan, independent Congressional Budget Office himself has said that the administration's proposed Medicare cuts would indeed lead to significant cuts in benefits to seniors.

The Medicare program the Democrats are seeking to eliminate is the most free market aspect of the plan, Medicare Advantage. And while Medicare Advantage could use some revamping, by eliminating it you are affecting greatly the 10 million seniors who enjoy its benefits. The Democrats can expect senior revolts similar to what disgraced Chairman of the House Ways and means, Dan Rosentowski faced in the late 1980’s when he led eliminations to their services. This does not mean Medicare isn’t in desperate need of revamping, but to make the cuts that the Democrats are suggesting to help pay for the monstrosity that is the current health care bills in Congress is the Democrats putting their liberal agenda ahead of the constituents they serve, and the senior citizens that raised us."

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said:

It's obviously politics (when have the Republicans been committed to Medicare?), it remains to be seen whether or not it is clever.


On healthcare (Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison)

Americans love having options. From the food we eat to the cars we drive, we relish making our own choices based on our preferences and what is best for ourselves and our families. Health care should not be an exception. Yet the proposals put forward by the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership would create a massive government plan for health care and crowd out the choices Americans expect.

A federal government takeover of our nation’s health care will limit, if not eliminate, an individual’s options in insurance and delivery. That does not mean “no” is the answer to reform, either. Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured, which raises the premiums and property taxes for those who are covered. And many families who want insurance do not have access to affordable choices. Now is the time for other approaches. And states can play an important role.

Fortunately, there are promising market-driven, consumer-directed solutions to health reform that beg a closer look. One such innovation is the health exchange.


Seniors Have a Right to Know (Rep. Dave Camp)

Seniors have a right to know if and how their benefits will be cut if the Democrats’ health care legislation is enacted.

Yesterday, I, along with my fellow Republican Ways and Means Members, sent a letter to Chairman Rangel requesting a hearing on the growing controversy surrounding the gag order the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) placed on all Medicare Advantage (MA) plans. This, in turn, was triggered by a letter Humana sent to their MA beneficiaries, informing enrollees of cuts proposed by President Obama and Congressional Democrats that could mean higher costs and reduction in benefits. The Humana letter was likely based on a report from the Congressional Budget Office warning that the policies contained in the House Democrats’ health care bill, “could lead many plans to limit the benefits they offer, raise their premiums, or withdraw from the program.”

While CMS chose to place a gag order on the distribution of factual information by Humana, no such similar order was placed on AARP, which co-sponsors the largest MA plan in the country. AARP continues to contact its enrollees—with the only major difference being that AARP’s communications support the Democrats’ bill and its massive Medicare cuts. This is an abuse of the government’s regulatory authority and likely of the first amendment.

Facts about the Democrats’ proposed Medicare cuts and their impact on seniors should not be censored by the Administration in an effort to ram through health care legislation. These MA cuts threaten the high-quality care 11 million seniors currently receive. Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee want to know why CMS is selectively enforcing their gag order on Humana, whose concerns expressed to seniors have been confirmed by CBO, while CMS has turned a blind eye to false assertions made by AARP.  Finally, the Administration needs to explain why its reversal of previous guidance on this type of communication – which the Clinton Administration said in 1997 was perfectly legal – is not a violation of CMS’ marketing rules.

This political maneuver threatens the integrity of our democracy in an attempt to silence factual criticism of the $500 billion in Medicare cuts.


We need common sense reforms that will lower healthcare costs (Rep. Dan Lipinski)

In his health care reform speech before a Joint Session of Congress, President Obama pledged to give due consideration to all serious reform proposals submitted to him by members of the House and Senate. I have since sent the President a letter outlining three bills I have introduced plus other proposals that would lower health care costs and help us meet our common goal of ensuring reform legislation does not add to America’s deficit.

The bipartisan Hospital Price Transparency and Disclosure Act (H.R. 2566) would mandate that hospitals regularly disclose the prices they charge for common procedures and medications. This would lower costs by allowing consumers to shop for the best value and by increasing competition among hospitals. The bill has been endorsed by Consumers Union, the independent, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. Requiring all health care providers to be transparent about their prices could produce pressure to rein in charges.


Still looking for leadership on healthcare (Rep. Joe Sestak)

It’s clear that a wide spectrum of Americans have lost faith in their government and in Congress in particular -- we saw it during the last administration and we’re seeing it today. Congress ranks at the bottom of public institutions in terms of people’s faith. Unfortunately, I think this skepticism-turned-cynicism is too often warranted.

Congress works for the people, and leadership in Congress starts with being a good public servant. That means something as basic as reading the bills that come across our desks that will impact the lives of the American people. It means getting out there and talking to our constituents. It means sticking by the principles we campaigned on and the commitments we made to the people instead of following the political winds.


The truth about 'The truth about the Capps Amendment'

Distortions, non sequiturs, and exercises in misdirection piled up like autumn leaves in Rep. Lois Capps' recent essay about the abortion-related components of the health care restructuring bill, H.R. 3200 ["The Truth About the Capps Amendment," Sept. 16].
For starters, let's take a look at this howler from Rep. Capps:  "And while the Secretary [of Health and Human Services] may choose to allow the public plan to cover abortions not allowed by the Hyde Amendment, coverage for those services must be paid for with segregated private funds.  No Federal funds may be used."

This assertion is beyond misleading -- it is truly absurd.  As a matter of law, and in the terminology used throughout the government, every dollar spent by the proposed government insurance plan ("public plan") would be public funds -- federal funds.