Friday, August 7, 2009

Lamar Alexander: Why we must start over on health care.

Lamar Alexander
by Lamar Alexander, U. S. Senator (TN)

The two plans now before Congress to reform our health-care system are good-faith efforts to find the best way to go in the wrong direction. We have to start over to get it right.

Why must we start over? People at home in Tennessee, the Mayo Clinic, 1,000 local chambers of commerce and businesses, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Democratic governors all basically say, ‘These plans have too many problems.’ Add all those problems up, and this is what you’d get in Tennessee:

Both plans before Congress look at the idea of dumping—and I use that word carefully—another 300,000 low-income Tennesseans into the failed Medicaid program (known as TennCare in Tennessee), even though right now 40 percent of doctors won’t see Medicaid patients. Then they’re going to shift the cost to the states after about five years—the equivalent of a 5-10 percent new state income tax in Tennessee. Governors are rightly appalled by this, and I say every senator who votes to provide more health care by expanding the failing Medicaid program should have to go home and serve as governor for eight years to try to manage and pay for it.

And around 900,000 Tennesseans could be affected by their proposed cuts to Medicare, while up to 1.6 million Tennessee workers could lose their employer-provided health insurance. Finally, as many as two million Tennesseans are at risk of being forced into the new government program created by these proposals.

Republicans have a better idea. We want to be sure you can afford your health care, but also that you can afford your government once we’ve fixed the system. We want to be sure the insurance company representative that today stands between you and your doctor isn’t replaced by a Washington bureaucrat. We want to be sure that you’re not denied coverage because of preexisting conditions, and that you have more choices—not fewer—in the health-care marketplace.

Senate Republicans have offered several plans in support of these principles, but so far they’re not being considered. The bipartisan Wyden-Bennett plan, for example, which I’ve cosponsored, is not perfect and I wouldn’t vote for it in its current form, but it would be a good start. That plan would take the subsidies we now spend on health care and spend them in a fairer way, giving low-income Americans a chance to buy health care like the rest of us have. It wouldn’t create any new government programs—and all this without adding a single penny to the debt.

We only have one opportunity to make changes that could affect the way health care is delivered in this country for generations. It’s time to reform our health-care system, but we have to start over to get it right.

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