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Public Statements

Comprehensive Health Care Reform

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH CARE REFORM -- (House of Representatives - February 12, 2009)

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Mr. Altmire, we normally join each other down here for a more wide-ranging conversation amongst the 30-somethings, but I'm thrilled you were able to come down and join us this evening.

Mr. ALTMIRE. I want to thank the gentleman from Connecticut. There's no one in this House--a lot of us care and work hard for health care--but that works on health care more and cares more than Mr. Murphy, and I appreciate you putting this together.

And the reason this is an important issue is because it affects everybody. It affects every individual. It affects every family. It affects every business in America. Health care is something that we all need, and

health care is something that we all have a right to.

Now, there's differences of opinion on what reform should look like, but there's no difference of opinion that our system is broken. And if you look at the facts, we as a Nation spend almost $2.5 trillion on health care as a country, far more than any other country in the world; yet we still get mediocre results when compared to other countries in some things like life expectancies and infant mortality, and Mr. Kennedy talked a little bit about that earlier. Now, we're the not in the middle of the pack. We're in the bottom of the pack in some of those when compared to other countries.

Now, if you can afford to get in and if you have access to the system and if you're one of the fortunate that has a quality health plan and you don't have any preexisting conditions, then you might say, well, we have the finest health care system anywhere in the world. And that's true, too, for that segment that's able to access our health care system.

The problem that we have is we have 50 million Americans, approaching that number, that lack any health insurance at all; 50 million people with no health care. As the gentleman from Connecticut talked about earlier, it's a common misconception to say those are people that it's their own fault, they should have health care, they should get a job. Three-quarters of those people have a job or they live in a household where the head of the household has a job. They don't have health care.

We passed an expansion of SCHIP in this Congress in the past 2 weeks here, signed into law by President Obama, that extends 4 million children access to the SCHIP program. Those are working families. Those are kids that didn't have health care. They live in families that work hard and play by the rules, but they can't afford health care for their kids. Is there anything more important that we could be doing for our children than making sure they have access to quality health care?

And if you look at our country, a big issue that we talked about in the stimulus was the information technology system in this country. And I just think it's crazy that you can go--I live in Pittsburgh. So somebody who lives in San Diego, they might not think this is so crazy. But if you live in Pittsburgh and you go to San Diego and you put your bank card in the ATM machine, you can pull up all your records in a safe and secure way, all your financial documents, get your balance. You don't worry about it. You don't think about privacy.

But if on that same trip you show up in the emergency room in San Diego and you need services, they can't pull up your record. They don't have your family medical history. They don't have your allergies. They don't have your imaging, your X-rays. They don't know anything about you, and you start from scratch, and they're going to ask you half a dozen times when you're there, what are you allergic to.

It's crazy that health care is the only industry in the country that doesn't have an interconnected information technology system. You would think that would be the most important one to have it. We don't have it.

Now, there are some health systems in this country, including the VA, that has done a pretty good job of putting together an information technology system, but what we can't allow happen is that we develop a nationwide network of small information systems that are incompatible with each other because that doesn't solve the problem at all.

So, what we tried to do in the discussion of the stimulus package was put together a roadmap for the future with information technology systems so that anywhere you go in this country, if you need health care, you can pull up your records in a safe and secure way. And with health care changing the way that it is and treatment protocols changing, the patient will have access to that, and in some cases, in a safe and secure way, the patient who is a diabetic from home that does their own self-tests can update their own record in conjunction with their physician.

So these are things that we need to aspire to in the future. We cannot allow our health care system to continue to languish behind the times of technology, and we certainly cannot continue to allow 50 million Americans and growing every day to go without health care. Because it's been said many times in this hour and many times before, we have people that do have health care outside of that 50 million that are one accident or injury or illness away from losing everything. The gentleman said it a moment ago. Those are the people that are lucky enough to have health insurance.

I hear from small businesses in my district all the time, with say 10 employees. They will say if one of their employee's kids, not the employee, the employee's kid gets sick or injured, they get a phone call from the insurance company, and they say, well, you're too big of a risk, we have to drop you. What's the point of having health insurance if you only have it until you need it, until somebody needs to use it? That's not what health insurance is supposed to be about.

We need to find a way to allow small businesses to pool their employees, either through their States or their regions or metropolitan statistical areas or, moving forward, the entire Nation. Put them all in the same community-rated risk pool and say that your individual health status doesn't matter when setting your rates. You can still have the same choices in the market. You can still, as an employer, choose what coverage you're going to offer your employees. And you as an employee have the same choice, but the insurance company can't use your individual health status to set your rates.

And that would make the system more fair. But the larger issue moving forward, as the gentleman said, and I'll conclude, is we have to find a way to ensure the highest quality care that is available to some parts of our society is available to everyone, to all 300-plus million Americans in this country, has access to the highest quality care, and they have health care not just when they do need it, but when they do need it. That's the key.

Again, we're going to have a long discussion about what does reform look like. We've talked about it before. And that's an issue that this Nation needs to come to terms with. But there can be no disagreement on the need for health care reform which, once we get past this economic situation that we're in now, has to be the number one course of action for this Congress.

I thank the gentleman.

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