By Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) - 09/22/09 09:31 PM EDT
There is a lesson in that story when it comes to reforming heathcare: It is time to listen to our customers and find an alternative they want and can afford. Committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed healthcare reform bills that the American people overwhelmingly do not support and that we cannot afford. The intensity of the country’s disapproval is apparent in town hall meetings, letters to newspaper editors, citizen protests, and constituent calls and letters from all across the nation.
I am disappointed that artificial deadlines took precedence over the good of a bipartisan agreement. All of the senators in this group, led by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), worked tirelessly and in good faith, and we made significant progress on many issues. Unfortunately, there are fundamental issues that we were not able to resolve by the artificial deadline. I am deeply disappointed that we could not take the time to find ways to resolve these issues.
Instead, we are left debating yet another flawed bill that spends too much, does too little to cut healthcare costs, and puts seniors’ benefits on the chopping block. As we work our way through the amendment process for this bill in the Finance Committee this week, I am going to keep working to bring down healthcare costs for American families, scale back total healthcare spending and protect seniors.
Everyone agrees that we need to bring down healthcare spending, but the government mandates in this bill will keep pushing healthcare costs higher and higher for average Americans. The practical effect of this bill is that Washington could dictate to every single American — even those who have insurance they like now — the coverage they would need to purchase. The bill does not give people affordable options, and it penalizes those who do not purchase high-end, expensive plans, regardless of what they want, need or can afford.
Requiring plans to cover more and more services and forcing people to purchase these expensive policies will inevitably drive up costs for all Americans.
That’s common sense.
You should be able to choose a plan tailored to meet your budget and your healthcare needs. That is why I am going to offer amendments to the Finance bill to create low-cost, affordable choices for all Americans.
I will offer amendments to eliminate junk medical lawsuits. Defensive medicine and malpractice claims add billions to the cost of healthcare every year.
Effective malpractice reform is essential to reducing costs and providing quality healthcare for all Americans. The American people need a serious commitment from Congress and the administration to enact meaningful malpractice reform.
We need to give people meaningful incentives to make healthy lifestyle choices, like eating healthy, exercising regularly and giving up smoking. The national grocery store Safeway tried this in 2005, offering lower health insurance premiums to employees who adopted healthy behaviors. While other companies have seen their health insurance costs go up by 38 percent since then, Safeway’s have remained constant. I will keep pushing for provisions in the bill to encourage other companies to establish innovative programs to control costs and help employees live healthier lives.
By enacting these cost-saving measures, we could reduce total healthcare spending in America for individuals, families, businesses and taxpayers. But we know some people still will not be able to afford the care they need. For these folks who truly need help, we should provide reasonable financial assistance to help them purchase health insurance. With our country facing an estimated deficit of $9 trillion in the coming decade, I will work to target assistance to those in the greatest need without creating unsustainable new entitlement programs.
I will also fight to protect Medicare benefits for seniors. The Finance Committee bill cuts hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare, including the popular Medicare Advantage program, and uses the savings to fund new government programs. We should not rob Medicare to pay for new entitlements.
I hope that we can pass some amendments this week that will bring us closer to a solution that the American people want and can afford, so we can help more Americans get quality, affordable healthcare coverage. As we continue our work, I am going to remind folks about the first lesson I learned selling shoes — when people don’t like what you’re selling, it’s time to get them a better product.
Enzi is ranking member of the Senate HELP committee.