HEALTH CARE -- (Senate - May 22, 2008)
Mr. VITTER. Madam President, I rise to talk about the need for dramatic, bold health care reform in this country, so every American has real access to good, affordable health care. In doing so, I wrap up a project I began 8 weeks ago with six of my Senate colleagues to highlight our proposed solutions to reforming health care in America.
I start by thanking those colleagues, Senators Coburn, DeMint, Thune, Isakson, Martinez, and Burr for joining me here on the Senate floor and in other venues to talk about this enormously important challenge for all of us.
We have reaffirmed what I think virtually every American knows, that we are in a health care crisis in this country, and there are some fundamental things broken, some fundamental things wrong with our present health care delivery system.
I want to reaffirm what was said: We need not just tinkering at the edges but some bold, dramatic reform to fix that system and give every American access to good quality and affordable health care.
But I also want to reaffirm there are clear choices to be made, dramatically different alternatives. We have laid out our positive choices in contrast to the other large alternatives, the single payer socialized solution that several of our colleagues here in this body have long advocated.
Our message, my colleagues and mine, Senators Coburn and DeMint, Thune, Isakson, Martinez, and Burr, has been simple at its core: The health care system must be centered on the doctor-patient relationship. Health care plans must be flexible and there must be real choice. Americans must be able to own and control their own plans and decisions and choose how those plans work for them, and Washington should not control or run or mandate all of this.
We believe individuals and families should own their own health insurance, and we oppose the Government managing or rationing people's health care. We believe individuals are capable and are better than bureaucrats at choosing that coverage which is best suited for their own needs.
We are opposed to forcing people to enroll in a plan versus providing incentives to encourage individuals and families to choose to enroll. We believe existing Government programs can be improved and modernized so they provide more efficient quality care to serve the purpose of their enactment.
In contrast to that, we oppose attempts to expand these specifically targeted programs and make them a Trojan horse for broader overreaching socialized medicine and sickness management by the Federal Government.
Instead of looking to put more people on Government health care, we should assure that the truly indigent have health coverage. My friends and colleagues who tried to rationalize a dramatically expanding SCHIP, for example, the ability to offer Government health care to already insured children, argued we have to put children first. But last year this Senate unfortunately and overwhelmingly rejected an amendment by Senator Coburn that would have assured that all children in the United States would have health care coverage before funding special interest pork projects.
We believe we should open and expand the health insurance marketplace to Americans so they can shop for health care across State lines and let insurance companies compete to provide quality, cost-effective care.
We oppose increasing the number of costly mandates that price individuals in so many cases out of the market and restrict consumer choice and access.
As my friend from South Carolina stated, there are almost 2,000 individual mandates in health care, covering in some cases acupuncturists and hair prostheses.
These mandates obviously drive up the cost of health care. In fact, according to the CBO, for every 1 percent increase in the cost of health care, 300,000 people lose their insurance. So there is a real human cost to so many of these mandates. This is supposed to be a free market society. I am perplexed as to why a consumer in South Carolina should not be able to shop for cheaper health insurance if that product is offered and sold in Louisiana.
This is commonsense reform to drive down mandates to a reasonable level. It would force insurance companies to compete with each other across State lines to offer cheaper quality plans. Americans are able to purchase or invest in almost anything in any State of the Union. This does promote competition. It encourages companies to offer better prices and better quality and more attractive interest rates for savings and better service. Why can't we bring that positive aspect to the market of health insurance?
My colleagues and I who join together in this discussion recognize that seniors have increasingly turned to Medicare Advantage plans because they offer better value, more choice, a higher quality of care than traditional fee-for-service Medicare. We oppose attempts to cut Medicare Advantage and reduce health care choices for seniors. Again, unfortunately, too many folks in this body are moving in the other direction. In fact, the chairman of the Finance Committee has indicated that the majority side of the aisle will offer a Medicare package that will likely significantly cut funding for the popular Advantage plan.
I have heard from thousands of Louisiana seniors who are overwhelmingly pleased with their Medicare Advantage plans. I hope we can preserve this option for seniors and find a reasonable compromise so we don't cut Medicare Part C and negatively affect those seniors.
We believe we should dramatically reform the tax treatment of health care by providing powerful incentives that will increase access by allowing Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money to pay for health care. We oppose tax increases that do the opposite, that seize American money from American families to pay for government-run and government-dominated health care. That limits access to doctors. It lowers the quality of health services. Addressing health care through our Tax Code would fundamentally change the health care market, if we do it in the right way. By letting Americans keep more of their money for health care through refundable tax credits, we can empower Americans with more resources to obtain and access care.
We have seen the results of increased utilization of health savings accounts. We want to see that when given the freedom to keep their tax-free money for health care, Americans will make conscious efforts to stay healthier, make better health care decisions, and shop for more cost-effective care and services. HSAs, health savings accounts, are a newly implemented concept and one that is working. Americans want choice, and tax advantage options such as HSAs allow for more choice in health care. We know our proposals would reform a broken system into one that is patient centered, high quality, lower cost, and where families choose and own their own health care plan. Government-run health care does not work and limits access and choice for families.
If you do not believe that, look to our neighbors. To the north we see Canada, which has a weekly lottery to see which of their citizens, in essence, can go to the doctor. Look to our friends across the Atlantic, to the British. The British National Health Service recently promised to reduce the wait time for hospital care to 4 months. That is supposed to be a dramatic improvement under that model, under Great Britain's national health care system.
Is that the kind of health care we want Americans to have? I sincerely hope our proposals over the last 8 weeks will be some part of promoting this badly needed debate. I sincerely hope that important debate leads to action, to results in the Senate and the Congress, results for the American people. Health care is one of the most important issues for American families today. It is time we actually do something instead of sitting on our hands in Washington. We need to go back to the States to talk about how we need to reform the American health care system. It is time to embrace the challenge of health care reform and do something now, not just punt to future Congresses, future Washington politicians, future Presidents.
I hope our discussion over the last 8 weeks helps promote that, not just debate but debate leading to action to improve the lives of all Americans with regard to health care.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.