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Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009 - Resumed

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COBURN. There needs to be some clarification. Medicare doesn't cover everything. Eighty-four percent of all Medicare patients have to buy a supplemental policy now. Do you know what Medicare Advantage is about? Who set the prices on Medicare Advantage? The government set the prices on Medicare Advantage. The very same people you want to run it now created a 14-percent premium. The insurance industry didn't set the prices. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services set the prices. The government is responsible for that differential.

Why is Medicare Advantage important? Because the vast majority of the people in my State and every State who have Medicare Advantage can't afford to buy a supplemental policy to make them whole on Medicare, because Medicare won't cover it. So Medicare Advantage for 89,000 Oklahomans is the only way they get equality with the rest of their peer group who can afford to buy a supplemental policy.

Now we are going to take that ability away from poor seniors in Oklahoma, Arizona, Iowa, and Illinois, and we are going to say: You don't get what everybody else has because you are economically disadvantaged. So we are going to give you substandard care, and we are going to take more of your income. Medicare Advantage offers the things you get with a supplemental policy when you can't afford to buy a supplemental policy. The very idea of saying we are going to take that away, when you are taking that away from the cheapest program we have in terms of performance, because what Medicare Advantage does, which their bill and this bill purports to do, is recommends and encourages and incentivizes prevention as the Senator from Iowa wants to do for everybody. It incentivizes it. It doesn't cost to have a prevention exam under Medicare Advantage. There is no out-of-pocket cost for our seniors who are poor who happen to have the benefit of Medicare Advantage. You are going to take that away. You are going to destroy it for 11 million seniors, the ability to get a preclearance, a screening exam, without them having to spend money on it.

Is there a way to get money out of Medicare? Yes, there is $100 billion worth of fraud a year in it. According to

Harvard, there is $150 billion worth of fraud a year in Medicare. There is $2 billion worth of fraud.

I want to address something else the Senator----

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I would answer my colleague by saying this bill is a government-centered approach, not a patient-centered approach. It is the very reason we are in the trouble we are in today. We have had the government making decisions rather than the patients and the physicians. It will, in fact, lessen the care for seniors.

I gave a speech earlier this morning on the floor that if you are a senior, you should be worried. Because the Medicare Advisory Commission and the cost comparative effectiveness commission will now decide ultimately what you get. We have an amendment on the floor, which in many ways I support but I would like to modify, about reinstituting what should be the standard for mammography for women. How did we get there? We have a commission that looks at cost and not patients. From a cost standpoint, the task force on screening is absolutely right. But from the patient's standpoint, it is absolutely wrong. How do we decide the difference? Do we make the difference based on what something costs or do we make it on what my wife, who will soon be a Medicare patient, receives? The question is, will the cuts that are manifested by this bill impact seniors' care? As somebody who has practiced medicine for 25 years and cared for seniors for longer than that, I will tell you undoubtedly they will have delay, denied care, and 80 percent of them will be fine. But 20 percent of the seniors in this country will be markedly hurt by this bill because a bureaucracy looking at numbers, not patients, never putting their hand on the patient, will make a decision about what is good for them and what is not.

Everything we know about medicine is that is exactly the wrong way to practice it. Every patient is different. Every patient's family history is different. When we talk about taking $120 billion out of the Medicare Advantage Program, what we are talking about is decreasing access to some of the most important screening capabilities that many of these people have and making them unaffordable because they cannot afford a supplemental Medicare policy. They cannot accomplish it.

I want to address one other question. The majority whip said the Republicans have not had a bill. During the markup in the HELP Committee, I went through point by point the Patients' Choice Act. The Patients' Choice Act puts patients and doctors in charge, not the government in charge. The Patients' Choice Act neutralizes the tax effect to make everybody treated the same in this country, as far as the IRS is concerned.

Right now, if you get insurance through your insurance company, you get $2,700 worth of tax benefits. If you do not, you get $100. That is really fair. That is one of the reasons why people who do not get insurance through their employer cannot afford health insurance. It is because we do not give them the same tax benefit. It would give a tax cut to 95 percent of Americans, plus help them buy their care.

The Patients' Choice Act solves the liability problem by incentivizing States to have reforms in terms of the tort problem we have, where we know the cost is at least 6 to 7 percent more that we have spent on health care than we would if we had a realistic tort system.

Finally, we go after insurance companies because we do what is called risk readjustment. If you are dumping patients or cherry-picking--guess what--you have to pay extra; you have to pay to the very insurance companies that are covering those sick people. So we change the incentive to where an insurance company is incentivized to care for somebody rather than to dump them.

I was an advocate, when I was in the House, for the Patients' Bill of Rights.
I was defeated at every turn, trying to make this. To say we did not come with a bill, on a party-line vote in the HELP Committee 13 voted against a commonsense bill that did not increase taxes, did not increase premiums, covered more people than this bill will cover by 4 million, putting everybody in Medicaid on a private insurance policy so no longer are they discriminated against by the doctors who will not take Medicaid, taking the Medicaid stamp off their forehead and giving them the same access to health care we have.

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Mr. COBURN. I am. I would tell the Senator, again--how are we where we are? How are we where we are, when we are going to take a program that is working--granted, I think Medicare Advantage could be decreased through true competitive bidding. But CMS did not do that. We could bring the costs down and still have the same benefits. But this bill cuts the benefits in half, the extra benefits that Medicare patients have by being signed up on Medicare Advantage that everybody has who can afford a supplemental policy.

I want to address one other thing, if the Senator would allow me. The majority whip said: Don't we want to get rid of conflicts of interest? Yes. But his argument was specious because the price is set for an X-ray or a mammogram or a CT or a blood test. They are set by Medicare now. There is no differential in the price other than what Medicare says the differential will be. There is no arbitrariness. The government sets the price for every Medicare test out there by region. So there is no way to game it, as the Senator from Illinois said it was gamed. The best reason to have a lab in a doctor's office is so you do not have to wait and come back for another visit to the doctor who charges Medicare another $60 because you get the answer right then. We want to eliminate that. So what will we do? There is no cost savings in that. There is a cost increase because now, instead of giving an answer to the patient, the patient is going to wait as they send it off to the lab, and have them come back in.

Mr. McCAIN. Can I ask the Senator another question? How does the Senator envision that we can eliminate fraud and abuse and waste and institute significant savings? One of the ways is to retain the provisions in this amendment, this motion to commit, that uses the savings from fraud, abuse, and waste elimination to make the trust fund stronger, but at the same time preserves the benefits that our senior citizens have earned. How many times have you heard from senior citizens in your State saying: I paid into this trust fund. I paid for my Medicare all my life. Now it is going to be cut. How is that fair? How is that fair to my generation, the greatest generation?

Mr. COBURN. Well, if you take $100 billion a year--and that is not an exaggeration; even HHS, this last week, said their improper payments were $92 billion; the Inspector General and the GAO both say it is higher than that; that is on Medicare alone--if we just captured $70 billion of that.

How do you do that? Do you know how Medicare pays down? They pay and then chase. So you submit an invoice. They do not know if it is accurate. They pay it, and then they go try to get the money back afterwards.

How about precertification of a payment, as everybody else does that has anything to do with the volume that Medicare has? The other way you do it is with undercover patients, where you put people actively defrauding Medicare in jail. Less than $2 billion in this whole bill goes after fraud. That is 2 percent of the fraud per year. We could cover everybody in the country or extend the life of Medicare 20 years by eliminating the fraud that is in Medicare today. What are we going to do? We are not. We are going to create more government programs and more agencies that are going to be designed to be defrauded. So, therefore, the fraud is going to go up, not down. The fraud is going to go up, not down.

We are also going to limit the availability of prevention to seniors. I have read the prevention text in the bill. There are parts of it I absolutely agree with. We know if we manage prevention and we manage chronic diseases, we are going to save a lot of money. But we are not going to save any of it by building jungle gyms and sidewalks. What we have to do is incentivize people, both physicians and patients, to get in the preventive mode. We need accountable care organizations.

There are lots of things we can do. There are lots of things we can agree on. I know the Senator from Iowa and I agree on a lot on the prevention, but we ought to be saving that money, and we ought to eliminate the fraud. If we did nothing in this body except eliminate the fraud in Medicare, think what we would have done, think what we would have done for the kids who follow us.

Mr. President, $447 billion spent on Medicare; $100 billion in fraud. Wheelchairs that have been billed out so many times they have collected $5 million on them, doctors who submit false invoices, suppliers who submit invoices for people who are deceased. And we try to go get that after the fact? There are lots of things we could do. This bill is short on that. You all recognize it is short on it. It is the biggest savings out there. The reason there is not more in it is because CBO will not score it because we have never demonstrated that capability.

One final point. This bill only scores the way CBO scores because it says you intend to do what no Congress has ever done. It says you intend to cut Medicare $460 billion to $480 billion. If you intend to cut Medicare, the American people ought to know where you are going to do it, how it is going to affect them. But if you are just doing it for a scoring point, the young people in this country ought to know that too. Because where you say you are claiming $460 billion, you are adding to the deficit if, in fact, we do not cut Medicare that much. And is it fair to the Medicare Advantage patients, who are poor--who do not qualify for dual coverage with Medicaid, who cannot afford a supplemental policy--is it fair to take away the benefits they have today that we have given them--and it was not priced by the insurance industry; it was priced by CMS--and say because CMS, the government agency, did not price it, we are going to take away half of your benefits? It is not fair. It is not right. If there is anything immoral, that is immoral.

With that, I yield the floor.

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