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Public Statements

Health Care

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I heard the majority leader talk about denying care, and that is the issue before us--one of the major issues. The vision of the Republicans is that there will not be someone in between a patient and a doctor who would get in the way of a treatment you need or the care you need or have you stand in line or wait too long. Our great fear is the Democratic proposal so far, in which we have not had a chance to participate, would put the government between you and the doctor and the government doing the rationing.

Republican proposals, such as those of Senator Gregg and Senator Burr and Senator Coburn and even the bipartisan proposal by Senator Wyden, a Democrat, and Senator Bennett, a Republican--of which I am a cosponsor of all--envision a system where those of us, the 250 million of us who already have health care insurance, would be permitted to keep it and that we would find a way to reform the Tax Code to give to individuals who do not have good health care the money they need to buy the health care and to choose it for themselves. Our concern is, the Government might become too much involved, and we might create a program that is filled with more debt, on top of the debt we already have, that our children and grandchildren simply couldn't afford it.

Mr. McCain, the Senator from Arizona, has been, I guess, in more town meetings about health care than any other American, at least any other American who serves today in the Senate. He was in Texas last week and home last week in Phoenix, at some of our leading institutions, to hear what people had to say about it.

I wonder if I could ask the Senator from Arizona if he heard concern from those in his home State of Arizona, or those at M.D. Anderson in Texas, about
the government getting in between the patient and the doctor.

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, if I could say, first of all, I would like to thank the Senator from Tennessee for his leadership on this issue. It is a privilege to serve on the HELP Committee with him, and his continued involvement in the ongoing discussion and debate about one-sixth of America's gross national product has been vital.

I thank my friend from Tennessee. Could I also pick up on what the Senator was just saying, that the majority leader criticized the Republican leader in the House who said America has the best health care system in the world. What the Republican leader in the House was saying was the obvious: America has the highest quality health care in the world. And as the Senator from Tennessee just mentioned, I was in Houston at M.D. Anderson with Republican leaders, the Senator from Kentucky and Senator Cornyn from Texas. There were people there from 90 countries around the world--90 countries, most of them wealthy people who could have gone anywhere in the world for health care.

But they went to the best place in the world, M.D. Anderson--one of the best, I would argue. We have some facilities in Arizona and probably in Tennessee that are of equal quality.

But is there any doubt, when people come from all over the world to the United States of America, that the highest quality health care is not in America? It is. The problem is, and I am afraid some of my colleagues do not get it, it is not the quality of health care, it is the affordability and the availability of health care.

Our effort has been to try to make health care affordable and available. The latest proposal of the Democrats is that it only covers 40 percent of the uninsured and costs trillions of dollars. So why not, I would ask my friend from Tennessee, why not let people go across State lines to get the insurance policy they want? Why could not a citizen of Arizona who does not like the insurance policies that are available there find one in Tennessee? Why not have meaningful malpractice reform? We all know where 10, 15, 20 percent, sometimes, of health care costs come from. They come from the practice of defensive medicine.

Everybody knows it. It is one of the elephants in the room. So, therefore, we do not have--and consistently in the HELP Committee, amendments that have been proposed by the Senator from Tennessee and me and others to reform medical malpractice have been voted down.

The State of California some years ago enacted meaningful and significant medical malpractice reform. Guess what. It has decreased health care costs. So we are not getting--and I say to my friend from Tennessee, I hope he agrees that we are going at the wrong problem. The problem is not the quality of health care. We want to keep the quality of health care. It is the cost and affordability of health care.

We have not gotten affordable and available health care for all Americans.

Mr. ALEXANDER. I agree with my friend from Arizona. I think of the pregnant women in rural counties in Tennessee who have to drive all the way to Memphis, or all the way to Nashville to get prenatal health care because there are no OB-GYN doctors after their medical malpractice cases have driven up their insurance. So there is no way for them to get health care.

If I am not mistaken, I listened to the majority leader talking about the tragic case in Nevada of someone unable to get health care because of a preexisting condition. The Senator from Arizona knows all of the proposals. I believe all of the Republican proposals would say, everyone would be covered, that preexisting conditions would not disqualify you.

The issue before us is whether we are going to address trillions to the debt or put the government in between the patient and the doctor.

Mr. McCAIN. I totally agree. Could I mention, since the Senator from Tennessee and I are going up to another meeting in the HELP Committee, the Roll Call article this morning says:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday strongly urged Finance Chairman Max Baucus to drop a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill. Reid, whose leadership is considered crucial if President Barack Obama is to deliver on his promise of enacting health care reform this year, offered the directive to Baucus through an intermediary after consulting with Senate Democratic leaders during Tuesday morning's regularly scheduled leadership meeting.

In other words, according to this article, any shred or semblance of bipartisanship is now out the window. So I think the Senator from Tennessee would agree with me. One of the very disappointing aspects of this whole debate is we have not changed the climate in Washington. Has there ever been, to the Senator's knowledge, a call to sit down at a table in a room with leading Republicans and Democrats and say: Hey, can't we work this out? What is your proposal? Here is ours. Can't we sit down and agree to save health care in America and preserve its quality and make it affordable and available? Way back in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill sat down together, they saved Social Security.

This is unfortunate that even the last shreds of attempts at bipartisanship are now gone. Now maybe it is because the 60th Democratic vote was sworn in yesterday. Maybe they figured they had the votes. Maybe they do. But anybody who alleges that this administration and the other side of the aisle are changing the climate in Washington, that is simply false.

Mr. ALEXANDER. There is probably no one in the Senate who has been in the midst of bipartisan negotiations more times than the Senator from Arizona. This is not just for the purpose of feeling good, it is the way to actually get a broad base of support for an energy bill or an immigration bill or a Supreme Court nominee. Usually it involves, if I am not mistaken, sitting down with several members of each side and coming to a consensus, sharing insurance ideas, fighting off the left and right and producing 60 or 70 votes. If I am not mistaken, that is the way we do bipartisan bills around here.

Mr. McCAIN. I say to my friend, indeed. One of the issues I think we ought to continue to understand is one of the key elements of this debate is whether we will have the so-called government option. I know the Senator from Tennessee is going to talk about that. I think it is important for us to look overseas at other countries that are highly industrialized, highly sophisticated, strong economies, countries that have government-run health care.

To say the government option would be just another competitor clearly is not the case; otherwise, we would just have 1,501 new insurance companies in America. If you had the government option, it will lead to a government takeover of health care, and we ought to look at what other countries do.

I am sure the Senator from Tennessee knows this, but it is health care rationing and a level of health care that will not be acceptable in the United States of America. I say that with great respect to our friends in Canada, the British, and other countries that have government-run health care systems. I think that is going to be one of the two major issues: the government-run health care and the employee mandate. Those are what this health care debate will come down to.

It is of great concern, I know, to the Senator from Tennessee.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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