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Public Statements

30-Something Working Group On Health Care

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Mr. ALTMIRE. I thank the gentleman from Ohio.

I sat with the gentleman for a while and listened to one of the groups that came before us, and I couldn't help but think about the fact that they seem to miss the fact that I would agree: The worst possible thing we could do in health care reform, as a Congress, is to pass a bill that makes the system worse. We are capable of doing that. We are not going to do that, but that would be the worst possible outcome.

But a very close second is to do nothing. The gentleman from Ohio said that businesses and families in this country struggle every day with the decisions relating to the cost of health care. I, in visiting my district recently, had an opportunity to speak to a Rotary Club in my district. A business owner came up to me afterwards, and he showed me his health care statements for the past 4 years, his annual increases. The lowest increase on an annual basis that that small business owner had experienced, he had 12 employees, was 28 percent. That was the smallest increase he had. He told me, I can't do this anymore. I can't afford health care. I'm going to have to tell my 12 employees this week that I have to drop them. He couldn't offer health care any more.

Well, that is unacceptable in America. And that is what is going to continue to happen if we sit back and do nothing while the cost of health care continues to rise two and three times the rate of inflation every single year.

I had a woman come up to me at one of my meetings who was one of these people who had attended one of the TEA parties that the gentleman refers to. She was very angry, and she was telling me all the reasons why she opposed what she perceived us to be doing on health care and everything else that was getting under her skin. She was really getting herself worked up. She looked at me, and she said, Don't you dare take my money to pay for those people who don't have health care. Because, she said, I have worked hard for everything I have, and my family is covered, and if those people aren't, well, that's too bad. That's their problem. I'm not worried about them. I have worked to put myself in a position to provide for my family. She said, forget about those people. That's not my problem. I'm not paying for them.

I said, Well, here is the issue: You are paying for them, because they show up at the hospital, they get treated, and the hospital sends the bill to us. That's how that works. And this woman who came to this event to fight, she wanted to take me on. When I said that, she softened. And she said, You know, it's so funny that you say that because I just had a procedure done at the hospital in February, and the insurance company denied part of my claim, and I had to pay $18,000 out of pocket. So she went through the bill very closely because she was the one paying the money. She called the hospital, and she said, Why does everything on this bill cost more than it should? Why does an aspirin cost $10?

And the hospital told her, Well, that is because we have so many people who come through our doors that can't pay at all, we have to shift those costs to the people who can pay. So therefore, everything on the bill costs five times more than it should.

Similarly, I had a gentleman tell me about all the reasons why he didn't want to do health care reform. He said that we have the best system anywhere in the world and everything worked fine, and even if you don't have insurance, you get treated, and everything is free, and it's great. He said, I have a nephew who is 15 who had a hip problem, and he showed up at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and he got the best care anywhere in the world. And he is great, and he is fine now. I stopped him. I said, wait a minute. You said he didn't have insurance. How did he pay for this great care that he got? He said, well, I guess Children's Hospital paid for it. And I said, well, no, that is not what happens. We paid for it, because Children's Hospital eats those costs, and then they transfer the loss to the people who have insurance. That's the way that works. And he got it.

The point of this story is we can hear all the examples on the other side politically of why it's better to do nothing, and we should make everybody very afraid of reform. But everybody in the country, every family and every business and every individual in the country, regardless of their political affiliation, has had an experience in the health care industry that shows them that we can do better. They have had to spend a half hour on the phone haggling with an insurance claims adjuster who has just denied their claim. There is that small business owner who has to make the heart-wrenching decision to drop coverage for his 12 employees. There is someone who had to wait 9 months for an appointment with the dermatologist or had a bad quality experience with a grandparent in a nursing home. Everybody has had something happen that shows we can do better.

Yes, we have to preserve what works in our system. I'm one who believes as much as anybody in this Congress that we do have the best health care system anywhere in the world. Our innovation, our medical technology, our research, our quality of care at the high end exceeds anything available anywhere else in the world. There is no question about that. And we need to preserve that. But that doesn't mean we don't pay too much, costs go up too much, we are pricing our small businesses out of the market.

And if you get sick or injured and that insurance company is able to drop you, well, what is the point of having health care insurance to begin with if you only have it until you get sick or until you get injured?

So what we are saying in the legislation that we are considering is, insurance companies won't be able to drop you as soon as you get sick or injured after you have paid premiums for years and years. They won't be able to do preexisting condition exclusions. They won't be able to set your rates based on your individual health status. They will have to take all comers, no lifetime caps or annual caps on out-of-pocket expenses for people with chronic diseases, which is a big problem in the insurance industry. These are the problems we are trying to solve.

We are going to help small businesses afford health care by helping business owners like the one I talked about in that Rotary Club to be able to qualify for tax credits to help him afford coverage for his employees. We are going to give more information to health care consumers in the country so they can compare based on cost, based on quality, and based on access to provider, all the plans that are available to them. We're going to squeeze out the inefficiencies of the current system and apply those savings to bringing more people into the system, those who are outside the health care system that simply can't afford health insurance now. These are the reforms that we're talking about.

So when you see the charts and graphs on the other side of the big bureaucracy identical to what those charts were in 1993 and they recycled them from 16 years ago, that's not what we're talking about. And we can come down here and have a discussion on the merits of the Canadian health care system or what they do in Great Britain. And that's interesting. That's an interesting discussion to have. But it has nothing to do with what we're talking about. That's not what we are doing in our bill. It's completely unrelated. But in order to scare people and gin up political support to foist a failure upon this Congress and this administration so that they can use it for political purposes, they make things up.


Mr. ALTMIRE. I would just say before turning it over to the gentleman from Connecticut, on that point, as I said, we are already paying for the people who don't have health care. So to our colleagues listening here tonight and to those who may be paying attention to this debate, we are trying to bring people into the system so that we can spread out the risk pool and bring insurance costs down for everybody by bringing more people into the risk pool. So if somebody gets sick and they have insurance, they can show up and get an antibiotic in the first place, so it doesn't evolve into pneumonia where they spend 6 days in the hospital 2 months later, and then we have to pay their bill.

That's the point. We are trying to rationalize the system so that we bring down costs so people who have insurance today, that's the point here. We can have a philosophical argument about what our moral obligation is as a society on offering coverage to everybody and should everybody who lives in the United States of America have access to health insurance. That's not the debate we are having. The debate we are having is, we need to get them their health care in the most appropriate, cost-efficient setting, and that's not the emergency room. That's not the appropriate setting for them, and that's only going to drive up costs.

So by getting them into the system, we are bringing down insurance costs for everybody, and we are getting them their care in a way that is more appropriate and more cost effective.

I yield to the gentleman from Connecticut.


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