HEALTH CARE -- (House of Representatives - February 14, 2008)
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Mr. ALTMIRE. And I want to commend Dr. Kagen for his leadership on this issue. As all of our colleagues know, Dr. Kagen, right from the very start, has made health care his priority here in Congress using his expertise.
I have a health care background as well, health care policy is my professional background, and the gentleman and I have spoken numerous times about the importance of health care. And I wanted to come down today to talk about the need for health care reform as we are currently discussing, but also just to commend the gentleman for his continued leadership on this at a time when clearly the political system is in unchartered waters, with a Presidential election that is going on around us, divided governments, we have a Congress with the House and the Senate that are having issues with other things going on.
But we continue to see the health care system get worse and worse. And I think the gentleman and I agree on many things, but most importantly on the need to do something about the health care issue right now. It would be very easy to say let's kick the can down the road another year. We'll come back here in March of 2009 and everything will be different and we'll take up health care then. That's great. You know what? When next year comes along, we are going to take up health care. And there is a variety of differences of opinion on what the approach should be for health care reform, how expansive do you want it to be.
But there are things that we can do now, this year, in this political environment, that are realistic. And that's what the gentleman and I have been discussing. We want to do things this year that would be considered, if not low-hanging fruit, at least issues that we can all agree on or most can agree on that we can pass and set the table for a further discussion next year on health care reform.
We have a country where there is over $2 trillion that gets spent every single year; 17 percent of our GDP goes to health care. And I don't think in my district there's an issue that I hear about more often than health care reform when I go around and visit my constituents, and the reason is this is an issue that affects everybody. It's not just your wallet. Obviously, a $5,000 premium, as Dr. Kagen was describing, something that we can all relate to, the exponential increases in health care costs. Small businesses every day in this country by the thousands have to make decisions on what to do about their health care costs for their employees. Do they shift the cost to an unmanageable level? Do they stop offering health care? But they know they can't afford it and it affects everything that we do.
$1,500 of the price of your car, if you buy an American-made car, is due to the health insurance costs of the automaker. Your State taxes are higher because of exploding Medicaid costs. Health care is the last remaining item on the table in every labor dispute in the country. That's why those issues come up. And we have a system that in many ways is better than any other system in the world. It's why people from all over the world come here for their transplants and for their high-end, high-tech care. We have medical innovation and technology advances that far surpass anything happening anywhere in the world. That's if you can get in, if you can afford our system.
The problem is when we are compared to other countries as a nation in life expectancy and infant mortality, we're not just in the middle of the pack; we're at the bottom of the pack when compared to other nations. We have tremendous issues. We're talking about 47 to 50 million Americans that lack access to health care. They don't have insurance. There are tens of millions more that live in fear of losing their coverage. They are one accident or illness away from losing everything. So we have major issues to discuss.
Most important, and I know the gentleman is going to deal with this issue at some length tonight, is the fact that if you're an individual or you're a small business owner and one of your employees gets sick or injured, you get a call from the insurance company, and they say guess what, we have to drop you because you've had this incident. And I think everyone can agree that your individual health status shouldn't be a factor in your health insurance rates.
And something that the gentleman has taken a leadership role on, which I'm going to leave him with because I'm on a limited schedule myself, and I appreciate his giving me the time, is talking about ways that we can incentivize the 47 million Americans and others who have insurance to join large risk pools, community-rated risk pools, whether it be the 180 million people in the country that are privately insured, that would be everybody, or metropolitan statistical areas, regional groups, whatever we can agree on. And I realize that there are differences of opinion on how big the group should be. But we can all agree that your individual health status should not be a factor in setting your individual health rates. It should be a larger pool's health status, which would lower the costs for almost everybody.
So at this point I am going to thank the gentleman for allowing me to say a few words and commend Dr. Kagen for his work.
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