HEADLINE: MEDIA STAKEOUT WITH REPUBLICAN SENATORS FOLLOWING POLICY LUNCHEON
PARTICIPANTS: SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY); SENATOR JOHN ENSIGN (R-NV); SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX); SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (R-PA)
SEN. MCCONNELL: Okay.
As you know, we turned to the medical liability issue yesterday. And the leader has filed cloture, and that cloture petition will ripen tomorrow, at which point we'll have a cloture vote on the motion to proceed.
We're hopeful that even those who don't agree with the underlying bill will think it appropriate to go to the bill and then offer amendments. Obviously, if we can't get past the motion to proceed, we can't offer amendments.
The issue is quite simple. There are 19 states that are in crisis, and only six states in America that have no problem with medical liability insurance premiums. The result, of course, is that patients are being denied care. It's an enormous problem in our country, and it is a national problem. There are some who think that this is a state problem. It's not a sate problem, it's a national problem affecting the entire country. And w think the Senate needs to take this bill up, debate it, and pass whatever the majority in the Senate thinks ought to be the approach to dealing with this medical liability crisis.
As you know, the House of Representatives has already acted. Only the Senate stands -- and the president supports the bill that the House passed. The underlying bill that we brought up, the principal sponsor of that is Senator Ensign, to whom I will pass the baton momentarily.
This is a bill that the president will sign and will begin to make a difference in getting medical liability premiums down, which means that health care professionals will be available to provide health care for American citizens.
Let me touch on one other issue, and that is the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which consists of Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. Currently it has four vacancies; they're all from Michigan. The two senators from Michigan have refused to return blue slips. And so, Chairman Hatch has not been able to act on these nominees, all of whom have been out there for some time. One of these nominees would become the first Arab-American to sit on a Circuit Court, U.S. Circuit Court anywhere in America. So we filed a motion to discharge those nominations and hope that there might be a possibility of getting that -- those nominations out of committee so that the Sixth Circuit, which is -- got four vacancies out of 16, could get back up to full speed sometime in the near future.
SEN. ENSIGN: I'm Senator Jon Ensign from Nevada. And as the chief sponsor of the bill to bring the costs of health insurance down for people through reforming our medical liability system, I want to make a couple of brief comments.
Nineteen states are in crisis right now. What does that mean to those 19 states? It means that women are becoming unable to get the doctor to deliver their babies, and especially those who have high risk pregnancies. But it also means in many other specialties doctors are leaving practice, so that they're not going to be available to those trauma centers, to the emergency rooms, and to various other areas and subspecialties that we absolutely need care.
There's always the point how do you justify caps to somebody who's had a case of medical malpractice? There is never enough money to pay somebody if something bad happens to them. No amount of money ever compensates them. What we have to do is balance the system to make sure, though, that we aren't losing doctors, and that patients are being compensated.
The model that we have is what has worked in Colorado and California, and has worked very, very well. Their insurance rates have remained steady, while the rest of the country is exploding. My state is one of the worst examples that we have. Doctors are leaving in droves in that state and going to places like California, because their insurance rates are stable.
This used to be a doctors-versus-the-lawyers issue. This is now truly about patients having access to quality health care, and that's why we have so many different groups -- over 50 different groups are supporting our bill, and we have to bring this and, hopefully, get it passed either now or, hopefully, in the very near future. The vote right now is to get the process started. Some people say it's just political. I would make the argument that we have to know where people stand on it, so that we can make the case to the American people to put pressure on their senators to pass this legislation.
SEN. SANTORUM: Thank you, John.
I just want to make a couple comments, and I'll have Kay (then ?) clean up here. I've come to this microphone more than one occasion to say the Democrats are putting politics above people. And I can't think of a better example than what we're seeing here on the whole issue of medical liability. The Democrats are putting their principal funders, and that is the trial lawyers of America, above not doctors, but above people who are not being given access to care.
My state is one of the 19 states in crisis. We are losing doctors. I was told by someone in western Pennsylvania when I was up in the state last week, there are no young doctors in western Pennsylvania. They're just simply not coming to our state anymore, because they can simply not afford to practice medicine there because of ridiculously high rates of insurance premiums. We have a problem in the Pennsylvania Constitution. We have to do a constitutional amendment to fix our problem in Pennsylvania, which will take five years to get done. We can't wait five years. We will simply not have anybody doing any of the, quote, "high-risk" kinds of medical procedures, including obstetrics and high-risk pregnancies, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, a whole bunch of other specialties, emergency rooms -- we've closed trauma centers, emergency rooms all throughout Pennsylvania. It is a real crisis.
And we need to respond to the people who are simply not getting access to health care. And the Democrats are standing up for their funders. They're standing up for the trial lawyers and not allowing this measure to go forward.
And as Senator McConnell said, what we're asking in this vote is at least let us bring the bill up. Let us have a debate. If you have substantive disagreements, make those substantive disagreements. But right now, what we're seeing is pure power politics on their side. And what we're trying to do is represent the people who are not getting access to care.
And with that, I'll turn it over to my colleague, Kay Hutchison.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Well, I certainly hope we will get a vote on medical malpractice. A recent study that was published in the Orlando Sentinel showed that the highest malpractice insurance premiums in the entire United States are paid in Houston, Galveston and Dallas, Texas -- $100,000 per year for an OB-GYN doctor to have insurance.
Now, so many of them are going out of business that in our small towns, women are not able to see a local doctor; they're having to drive 80 and 100 miles to see a doctor. And if they are delivering a baby, that's obviously very inconvenient and unsafe.
So when you look at OB-GYN in particular, I think we have got to do something to stop the escalating costs of insurance that are causing our doctors to go out of business. It is especially acute in the OB-GYN department, where we have to have access for our women who are having babies, safely. And that is why I'm very, very strongly supporting this bill.
Q You mentioned Democrats as being the ones not wanting to be on the record for this. Today Lindsey Graham in a news conference said that Republicans are playing politics, (insinuating ?) that the votes aren't there and that this is something that the Republicans basically want to take to the campaign trail in '04. How do you respond to that?
SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah. I disagree with Lindsey. I don't often, but I do here simply because we believe we have to have a starting point, we have to have a baseline. And the baseline is, you know, where are people going to stand when the votes are actually counted?
I hear from doctors all over the country who come in and talk to me about their congressman or their senator, and particularly their senator now, and they can't seem to get a straight answer. And one of the things I think is vitally important is to put people on the record. People can play all sorts of games with folks back home, but once you cast the vote, then you got to account for your vote back home. And I think that's vitally important for a lot of senators who are in these critical states.
I'd like -- yes, we're putting this vote forward so we can turn the heat up back home on senators who are not being responsive to the problems in their own states. We think the people in those states have a right to know where their senators are on this issue.
And I agree with Senator Graham we don't have the votes right now. And so -- and to the extent that we're playing politics, it's the politics of letting people know back home where their senator is when it comes to solving this problem. And yes, we hope that people will exert political pressure back home; that the folks back home in the white lab coats, as well as those who they treat, contact their senators and let them know that the problem is so acute in their community that they'd like them to change the vote when they come back here.
Q Senator, or both senators if you wish, what is the view here now on the possibility of sending U.S. forces into Liberia? Where are you on that issue?
Are you waiting for the president, or what are the risks and what are the benefits?
SEN. SANTORUM: We had a very short briefing by the vice president in our policy lunch today. I think most members, frankly, are just getting up to speed on this issue. I know Secretary Rumsfeld is coming later this week to talk to us about this and Iraq. And I think most members have -- are very much open-minded about it and have some concerns. I have some concerns about stretching our forces too thin at this time. The administration has made no decision. They have a team in assessing. The vice president was very clear that no decision has been made, and I think our members are going to try to, number one, learn as much as you can about the situation, and then hopefully act appropriately.
SEN. HUTCHISON: I would just agree totally that members are looking at the issue. They would like to know more. We're not going to send our troops into harm's way without asking a lot of questions. And I think the president is weighing it in that light as well.
I will want to see if it is a peacekeeping mission, and are we going to bring in other countries to be helpful here so that we don't spend our troops needlessly. And if -- if it's not a peacekeeping mission, I'm going to have to know what the United States security interest is.
So I think there are a lot of questions. But everyone's mind is open, and we certainly want to hear what the reasons are, what the climate is, and what would be the timetable.
Q Would the hope be for a multinational force rather than just a United States force?
SEN. HUTCHISON: My hope would be that it would be a peacekeeping mission in which we would be welcomed by the country in a multinational force that would be trained in peacekeeping.
Q (Are you prepared ?) to do an up-or-down vote on whether or not troops should go to Liberia?
SEN. SANTORUM: That's -- we're way too early in the process to go down that road.
SEN. HUTCHISON: I agree.
Q Senator, what was your reaction to the White House admission now that the evidence may have been flawed related to Saddam Hussein's efforts to purchase uranium --
SEN. SANTORUM: (Off mike) -- that was British intelligence, and we're using the best intelligence that we could gather. And obviously, when you use foreign intelligence, you -- we don't have necessarily as much confidence or as much reliability as you do your own. The administration, I think, has been very forthright. I think that's the real issue: has the administration been forthright as to what they knew and when they knew it. And I think they had the best information that they thought, and it was reliable at the time that the president said it.
It has since?? turned out to be, at least according to the reports that have been just released, not true. The president stepped forward and said so. I think that's all you can expect. And I don't think anybody -- I'm sure the president wished he had better information. But that's what we had at the time.
Q Senator, why wouldn't we use foreign intelligence -- (off mike)?
SEN. SANTORUM: We use foreign intelligence all the time, particularly in regions of the world where we don't have native intelligence. And the Arab world is one of those areas which we have not -- because of our past practices, have not invested the kind of resources necessary to get good human intelligence. And so, as a result, we rely on those who have more of a tradition in the region, including some of our friends and allies in the region and those friends and allies who have been doing operations in the region longer than we have. And so it is not unusual at all that we would use, particularly in that region of the world, foreign intelligence sources.
Thank you all very much.
Q Thanks, Senator.