Barrasso Floor Speech on Washington Takeover of Health Care

Madam President, when it comes to health care, Democrats and Republicans all agree that we need and we want health care reform. Having practiced medicine for over two decades in Wyoming, I know that doing nothing is simply not an option. But let me tell you from experience that the devil is always in the details. We must be careful, we must be thoughtful, and we must be deliberate about the changes we make.

Health care is a very complex and intensely personal issue. It deserves a serious, open, and transparent national debate. Any changes Congress makes are going to impact millions and millions of American families. These are people of our Nation; these are not nameless or faceless statistics; these are husbands, mothers, neighbors; these are our wives, our friends, and our coworkers; these Americans are our children--the Nation's most precious resources.

We must act, but still at issue is whether Congress will act without sacrificing our health care system's greatest strengths. And what are those strengths? The freedom to choose your own doctor, the freedom to choose the hospital you want, and the freedom to choose the health care plan that fits you and fits your family's needs.

I travel home to Wyoming every weekend. I was there yesterday. One of the top issues I hear about is health care. The people of Wyoming are concerned about the cost of their health care. Many families worry they will lose the health care coverage they currently have. Still others can't afford health insurance at all. This is what is wrong with the current health care system. This is what we need to fix. Wyoming families want to purchase health insurance coverage at an affordable price. They do not want to be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions. They do not want to lose coverage if they change jobs. But most of all, these families do not want Washington telling them--do not want Washington telling them--whom they have to see for their medical care. Everyone should have the freedom to choose the doctor, the hospital, and the health care plan they want. No Washington bureaucrat should ever be allowed to deny that right.

Some in Congress continue focusing solely on government solutions. They want Washington, in its enduring wisdom, to take over health care. Some in Congress want to create a government-run health care plan. Their plan creates a government-run insurance model that could limit patient choice, eliminate personal freedoms, and decrease the quality of care. What starts out as one option could quickly lead to being the only option.

We all know how this happens. Unlike regular health insurance, government health plans have unlimited access to taxpayer money. They can use the money to temporarily subsidize the cost of services, but ultimately someone must pay for the care.

According to the Lewin Group, 119 million Americans would lose the private coverage they currently have if we have a government-run system. I know some in the Senate and the administration keep saying: If you like your insurance coverage, you will get to keep it. The Lewin Group's data proves otherwise. Their study shows that businesses will face a situation where it is cheaper for them to insure their employees through the government-run plan, so employers will then transfer their workers from the private insurance that they currently have--and that they may like--to this new Washington-run government plan. So where is the personal choice? At this point, the individual has no option. The government-run plan is their option, it is their plan, unless that person changes jobs to an employer who is willing or can afford to offer private coverage. So what happened to the ``If I like my health insurance plan offered by my employer, I will be able to keep it''? Well, that promise is out the window.

Some say we can create safeguards that will ensure a level playing field between private insurance and a government-run plan. Well, as a doctor, I can tell you from personal experience that the government will never, ever compete on a level playing field with private business. Washington will never let its health care plan go bankrupt. Never. It will lose money, it will hide costs, and ultimately taxpayers will pay the difference. Private plans will not enjoy this same kind of support. That is exactly how the heavy hand of government can drive out competition.

So how does government compete with private business? Well, Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana summed it up pretty well. He said: ``The government competes with private business the way an alligator competes with a duck.''

Supporters of the government-run Washington takeover of health care say the plan will keep costs low. How? By paying hospitals, doctors, nurses, home health agencies, hospice providers, and long-term care facilities less than private insurers pay. This should sound familiar. This is what already happens with Medicare and Medicaid. Any participating Medicare or Medicaid provider will tell you that today, right now, doctors and hospitals have to shift costs onto private insurers just to keep their doors open. The cost shift is to make up the difference between what a procedure costs and what the government is willing to pay for it. That is what they call cost shifting. We see it every day.

A government-run plan will not encourage competition; it will take away your access to private health insurance. The private plans millions of Americans have today--the program they like, the one they want to keep--will be gone. The only choice remaining will be the government plan.

So what does this all mean to someone who is listening in--to the patient? Well, it means politicians will be making health care decisions, not patients making those decisions with their doctors. It means Washington bureaucrats will be deciding whether you can have the hip or the knee procedure you need. It means the government will be saying you cannot have lifesaving medical treatment because it is too expensive or because you are too old. It means Washington will be restricting your and your child's access to the most advanced medical testing equipment. It means testing delays, it means diagnosis delays, and it means treatment delays. Delayed care is denied care, and we do not want that in America.

Take a close look at what is going on in Canada right now. Last year, in Calgary, ophthalmologists--eye doctors--had no waiting lists for people needing cataract surgery. Then Alberta's cash-strapped government made a decision to arbitrarily lower the number of cataract operations it would pay for. They arbitrarily said: We are going to pay for 2,000 fewer cataract operations this year in Alberta than we did last year. So what did that mean for the people there? Well, many patients now have to wait a year for treatment--a year. Why? Well, the cutbacks forced surgeons to cancel all of the operations they had scheduled on people with moderately severe cataract conditions. So now they only book the most severe cases. Ophthalmologists are now concentrating their efforts only on the patients who are about to go blind--not the people who have a hard time seeing, the people about to go blind.

Patients living in Alberta have to almost be going blind to get cataract surgery. Is that the kind of medical care we want for Americans? Absolutely not. America should strive to offer its citizens the highest quality, most timely health care services in the world. That means Americans should not have to wait weeks at a time for tests and treatments they need. It means no one should be denied health care services because of government limits or government restrictions. It means no government bureaucrat should interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.

Currently, the Senate HELP Committee has been debating a reform plan that has been put forth by Senator Kennedy and Senator Dodd. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office told us--first, it told us the Kennedy-Dodd plan increases spending by more than $1.3 trillion in the first 10 years. Once it is fully operational, the 10-year fee would be closer to $2.6 trillion. The number was staggering. People cried ``sticker shock.'' What did they do? They tweaked it around a little bit and came out with a new estimate.

They are just guessing. Even more disturbing is the plan is incomplete. The Congressional Budget Office still has additional policies to score to come up with a pricetag. Clearly, this estimate does not reflect the bill's true cost because they left out Medicaid, something they have been forcing onto the States, and Governors all around the country have been crushed by these Medicaid-increased fees and increased expenses.

Ten years and trillions of dollars later, the Congressional Budget Office also tells us this plan only reduces the number of people who do not have insurance by 17 million. That leaves over 30 million Americans still without health insurance, and they are spending $1 trillion.

Finally, the Congressional Budget Office indicates that about 15 million people would actually lose the insurance they have now, be forced off of their employer-paid-for insurance under this trillion-dollar plan.

To me, this Kennedy-Dodd plan suffers from what I call the three Cs: it costs too much, it covers too few, and it causes too many people who already have insurance to lose the coverage they have.

Some in Congress believe unless we completely dismantle the current health care system and build it up in the image of big government, then reform, they say, is simply not worth doing. I disagree. Americans do not want the same government bureaucracy that has given us the Department of Motor Vehicles controlling our medical decisions. Americans don't want increased bureaucratic hassles, we don't want long waits, and we don't want restrictions on our medical care.

What we need is a serious, transparent health care debate. That is what Americans want. They want us to listen to their ideas, their concerns, their suggestions. The only way they can give us their ideas, concerns, and specifically their suggestions about a health care bill is if they actually get to read the bill.

Whether we should reform our health care system is no longer in question. Americans have answered with a resounding yes, and they don't want to continue to wait. They want simple, practical, affordable changes now: Changes such as prohibiting the use of preexisting condition clauses, changes such as allowing people to take their health insurance with them when they switch jobs. Madam President, you have a young family; I have a young family. Our children are going to have seven or eight jobs over the course of their lifetimes. They will need to take their insurance with them. We need to have changes such as offering premium breaks for making healthy lifestyle choices, changes such as having the same tax breaks for people who buy their own insurance as big companies get when they pay for insurance for their employees--we need families to have those same tax breaks. We need changes such as allowing people to shop across State lines to look for better deals, keeping their costs down.

I want to continue to come forward with commonsense ideas. I want the majority in Congress to work with me and with members of my party on a bipartisan health reform plan. That is the need. That is the need the country is expecting us to address. That is what I would like to do. We cannot simply put government in charge of health care and put bureaucrats in between patients and their doctors.