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Public Statements

Health Care

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KYL. Mr. President, I appreciate my colleague asking. There are 330,000 seniors in the State of Arizona who rely on Medicare Advantage. It is exactly as Dr. Barrasso said: Medicare Advantage is a program that helps people with preventive care, with coordinated care, and with some of the things that aren't available under regular care, including vision care, audio care, and the like. These benefits would be drastically cut under the proposal in this legislation, so they are naturally very much opposed to it. I think Arizona represents the second largest State in terms of the number of seniors participating in Medicare Advantage.

The other part of this that concerns them is the fact that if it is such a good idea to eliminate this program--or to drastically curtail it, to be perfectly accurate--then why is it that in one State the Senator was able to get his senior citizens who have Medicare Advantage programs exempted from the bill? If it is such a wonderful idea, why shouldn't it apply to everybody? But the seniors in Florida would be grandfathered in their Medicare Advantage plans because, of course, they don't like these cuts any more than seniors in Arizona or Wyoming or any other State.

So this brings up the question: How can these provisions that are objected to by the American people be fixed in the process that has now been settled upon, this so-called reconciliation process?

If I could address that for a moment. The author of this so-called reconciliation process is our esteemed colleague, the senior Senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd. Here is what he had to say about using the process he created, this reconciliation process, for the purposes of consideration of health care legislation. I quote him from the Washington Post, March 22, 2009:

I am certain that putting health care reform and climate change legislation on a freight train through Congress is an outrage that must be resisted.

Using the reconciliation process to enact major legislation prevents an open debate about the critical issues in full view of the public. Health reform and climate change are issues that in one way or another touch every American family. The resolution carries serious economic and emotional consequences.

The misuse of the arcane process of reconciliation--a process intended for deficit reduction--to enact substantive policy changes is an undemocratic disservice to our people and to the Senate's institutional role.

That is what Senator Byrd had to say. Yet that is the process that has been selected by the Democratic leaders to force this legislation through the Congress.

The final point I wish to make with respect to this is I think, to some extent, it may be a cruel hoax on some of our Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives who are counting on the Senate to back up the reconciliation bill that might be passed in the House of Representatives. What they are assuming is, when they attempt to fix the Senate bill they don't like very much by amending it through this reconciliation process and then sending that bill over to the Senate, the Senate is simply going to pass the bill. Voila: The bad Senate bill has been fixed, the President can sign the reconciliation bill, and we will now have national health care reform.

Well, not so fast. As a matter of fact, the author of this reconciliation process also created what is known around here as the Byrd rule, which means that if you go outside the narrow lanes of the reconciliation process and try to include things in the bill that don't belong in the reconciliation process, then it is, of course, subject to a point of order, as it should be, and it would take 60 Senators to override that point of order.

Well, there are a lot of things that are going to be attempted to be fixed in the reconciliation bill that are subject to a point of order--the Byrd rule. Those points of order will be upheld because I am going to predict to my colleagues that 41 Republican Senators are not going to allow that misuse of the reconciliation process--going outside what is clearly a reconciliation process--which means the bill that is passed in the House of Representatives, if it is, would not be passed by the Senate. Key provisions of it would have been stricken on points of order. Then, our friends in the House of Representatives would be faced with the prospect that they had already passed this bad Senate bill they don't like very much--and that I don't like very much--but the President can sign that into law. Yet the process by which they would attempt to fix it has failed because of the points of order that can be raised and that will be raised and that will be sustained, as should be the case, under the application of the so-called Byrd rule.

So when my colleague from Wyoming talks about his constituents in Wyoming objecting not only to the substance of the bill but also the process by which it has been handled, I can answer the question: Yes, I met with a whole group of people from different States this weekend--from Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey, New York--I visited with folks from literally all over the country, and they had the same objections, both as to the substance of the legislation, but they were also very curious about this reconciliation process because they had heard it could be used to ram the bill through by a process that it was never intended for, and they wanted to talk about that. When we explained the fact that the legislation adopted by the House--if it is--would not necessarily be adopted in the Senate but would be subject to these points of order--and, by the way, amendments, an unlimited number of amendments--then at least they understood why House Democrats who will insist on amending the Senate bill should not rely on the Senate to do their bidding. That isn't going to happen.

Let me say one other thing before I turn it back over to my colleague from Wyoming. It has been such a learning experience for us and an inspiration to have a couple real physicians in the Senate. Our only two physicians here are Dr. Barrasso, an orthopedic surgeon from Wyoming, and Dr. TOM COBURN, a physician from the State of Oklahoma, to talk about the real world of treating patients and how there are ways that care can be given in a less expensive way but retaining both the essential quality of care and that intangible but incredibly important--almost sacred--relationship between the doctor and the patient.

I see Dr. Coburn has joined us on the floor. It is key for the rest of us to understand how this process works when physicians sit down with patients and determine the best course of action to preventive care, that can both be the least expensive and yet still deliver the quality care that their patients deserve.

I think we ought to pay more attention to the advice they have provided to us, and I commend both Senator Barrasso as well as Dr. Coburn for the advice they have given to us, and I hope we will continue to listen to that advice as this debate unfolds.

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Mr. KYL. The Mayo Clinic in Arizona, unfortunately, has had to announce that in several of its key facilities there, it will no longer accept new Medicare patients. Why is that so? Because the government program of Medicare, which our seniors rely on, is getting to the point where it does not pay physicians what they require just to stay in business, just to have their office practice continue.

The Medicaid Program, which is the other government program, is already so low in its reimbursements to physicians that--the numbers differ, but 50 to 60 percent of physicians are no longer taking Medicaid patients. As a result, these government programs end up getting very close to rationing care because there aren't enough physicians and facilities to take care of the people who are enrolled in the programs. Imposing yet another entitlement for even more people to have this care with fees regulated by the Federal Government and reimbursements at levels too low for physicians to take advantage of will simply continue to drive physicians away from the treatment of the patients they have treated over the years and want to continue to treat.

It would be our hope we could bring the incentive for physicians to continue to treat these patients, rather than the disincentives the Mayo Clinic is pointing to in backing out of the treatment of folks in Arizona.

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Mr. KYL. Mr. President, I remember sitting back in the cloakroom and listening to Dr. Coburn when he was talking about how he treats patients who come into his office. A child, he said, comes in who has had a fall on the playground and the parents, understandably, are very concerned. Dr. Coburn said to me: If I just sit down and talk to that young man, that child, talk to his parents for a while, I can usually figure out what kind of treatment is going to be necessary without necessarily ordering a bunch of tests. But under the medical malpractice situation we have to work under today, I am almost required to order those tests or, if something should go wrong, be accused of malpractice. I wonder if my colleague could relay that story.

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