The health care bill being considered by Congress now accomplishes three things: one, it reduces health care costs for families and small businesses; two, it improves access to affordable care, regardless of pre-existing conditions; three, it lowers our budget deficit. That’s why I am supporting it.
Over the past year, I have been contacted by thousands of Middle Tennesseans with opinions on health care. Because this issue is so important, I have heard from passionate voices on all sides through face-to-face meetings, call-ins, surveys, town halls, calls and letters.
During that time, I have consistently said I would not support any version of health care reform unless it brings down rising health care costs, improves access to affordable care, and does it all without adding one nickel to the national deficit. I’ve now been presented with a bill that does all three; in fact, this proposal reduces the deficit by $130 billion over the next 10 years and $1.2 trillion in the 10 years after that. Finding solutions to the problems we face has been challenging, but we simply cannot sustain the status quo any longer.
I’ve heard from many Tennesseans in the past year who are struggling to afford health care. Since 2000, health insurance premiums for the average family have doubled. Too many hard-working families and small businesses are getting priced out of needed health care.
There is no evidence this trend of escalating costs is moderating. If no reform is passed, the average family premium in Tennessee is expected to increase from $11,550 today to $19,700 in 2019. Hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who currently have insurance are projected to lose their coverage. Small businesses that have stretched their budgets to cover employees will be forced to either cut care or cut staff. If we do nothing, local hospitals that are already struggling to accommodate uninsured patients through emergency room care and other resources will be stretched to the breaking point; some will likely go bankrupt.
Drawing from Republican and Democratic ideas, the bill before the House now has the potential to bring about major, commonsense remedies to our system that most all Tennesseans agree are necessary. Under the bill’s reforms, Tennesseans with preexisting conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer would be able to purchase insurance from any insurance company in the United States. Young adults would be able to remain on their parents’ policies until they turn 26. Families in financial trouble would receive tax breaks to help them find affordable insurance plans in the private sector. And finally, for the 100,000 seniors in my district, the bill would elimate the Part D donut hole and extend Medicare’s solvency nine years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Growing health care costs are also straining our economy and increasing our national debt. Health care expenditures now account for 20 percent of the federal budget. Without reform, that number is projected to double in the next ten years. The Congressional Budget Office calls current federal spending on health care “the single greatest threat to budget stability.” These costs must be contained if we are to get serious about cutting our national debt. I voted against the House bill in November because that version didn’t do enough to address health care inflation. The Congressional Budget Office now says the current bill will address the problem by reducing the deficit.
With this bill, we have an opportunity to address a number of inefficiencies that have drained our system and driven costs up artificially. To begin with, we can address the pressing issue of frivolous and expensive malpractice lawsuits, which force doctors and hospitals to practice defensive medicine and put a huge financial burden on the system. That’s why I introduced a measure based on Tennessee’s own successful Certificate of Merit Program, which has already brought down the number of malpractice suits in Tennessee by 60 percent.
We can attack waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare. We can hold insurance companies accountable and prevent companies from hiking premiums arbitrarily and dropping patients when they get sick. These are the measures I believe are essential to sensible reform, and these are the measures the new bill includes.
In November, I said I hoped the Senate and House could work out the difference and produce a bill I could support – one that takes responsible steps to make health care more affordable for our economy and for our families and small businesses. If I and each of my 534 colleagues in Congress had been able to write our own health reform packages, we would be looking at 535 different bills today. In the end, the question I’m faced with is this: will this reform be better for Middle Tennessee than the status quo? I think it will. That’s why I believe passing meaningful health care reform is essential and why I have made my decision to help ensure health care is affordable for Middle Tennesseans today and for generations to come.