McConnell: Americans Are Looking for Answers

‘Americans don’t want a government-run health plan. And they certainly don’t want a government board to dictate their health care coverage. They want real reform that solves the problems they face without sacrificing the benefits they enjoy’

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday regarding the importance of getting it right on health care reform:

“When it comes to health care, Americans are looking for answers. They don’t understand why basic medical procedures are so expensive. They don’t understand why millions of Americans have to go without basic care in a nation as prosperous as our own. And many are worried about losing the care they already have and like.

“So the need for health care reform is not in question. All of us want reform. The question is what kind of reform will we deliver? And two very different approaches are now beginning to come into view.

“According to one approach, the government plays the dominant role by getting into the health care business and leverages taxpayers’ money to muscle everybody else out of the way. Under this approach, the vast majority of Americans who like the health care they have risk losing it when a government-run system takes over.

“The other approach is to find ways of controlling costs, such as discouraging the junk law suits that drive up the cost of practicing medicine and limit access to care in places like rural Kentucky; lifting barriers that currently diminish the effectiveness of prevention and wellness programs that have been shown to reduce health care costs, like quitting smoking, fighting obesity, and making early diagnoses; and, finally, letting small businesses pool resources to lower insurance costs — without imposing new taxes that kill jobs.

“This second approach acknowledges that government already plays a major role in the health care system, and that it will continue to play a role in any solution we devise. But this approach is also based on the principle that government can’t be the solution. Americans want options, not a government-run plan that drives every private health plan out of business and forces people to give up the care they currently have and like.

“The Secretary of Health and Human Services acknowledged this concern about a health care monopoly when she described those parts of the country where certain private health plans already have a monopoly. ‘In many areas in the country,’ she said, ‘the private market is monopolized by one carrier … You don't have a choice for consumers. And what we know in any kind of market is a monopoly doesn't give much incentive for other innovation or for cost-effective strategies.’

“Well, if this is true of private health plans, then it would be especially true of a government-run health plan. If a government-run plan came into being, concerns about a monopoly wouldn’t just be regional, they’d be national.

“Another problem with a government plan is a feature that’s become all-too common in nations that have adopted one. Many of these nations have established so-called government boards as part of their government health plans that end up determining which benefits are covered and which benefits aren’t covered. Our former colleague and the President’s first choice for HHS Secretary, Tom Daschle, envisions just such a board in his widely cited book on the topic. ‘The Federal Health Board,’ he writes, ‘would promote ‘high value’ medical care by recommending coverage of those drugs and procedures backed by solid evidence.’

“What this means is that the federal government would start telling Americans what drugs they can and cannot have. We know this because that’s exactly what’s happening in countries that have adopted these government boards. They’ve categorically denied cutting- edge treatments either because the treatments cost too much or because someone in the government decided the patients who needed it were either too old or too sick to be worth the effort. When these countries enacted health boards, I’m sure their intention was not to delay and deny care. But that is exactly what these government boards are doing.

“The writer and commentator Virginia Postrel, who has written for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal recently wrote an account of her own first-hand experience with breast cancer and her ability to treat it successfully with the drug Herceptin here in the U.S. Postrel said the availability of the drug increased her chances of survival from a coin flip to 95%. A year after beginning her treatments, Postrel wrote that she had no signs of cancer.

“In the same article, Postrel points out that the situation is far different in New Zealand, where a government board known as Pharmac decided that Herceptin shouldn’t be made available to some cancer patients in that country. As one cancer doctor in New Zealand put it, New Zealand ‘is a good tourist destination, but options for cancer treatment are not so attractive there right now.’ Bureaucrats in New Zealand finally relented and allowed coverage for Herceptin, due in part to a public outcry over the limited availability of the drug.

“New Zealanders have also been denied access to drugs that have proven to be effective in reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes. According to an article from 2006 in The New Zealand Medical Journal, the restrictions placed on Statins by New Zealand’s government board significantly hampered the preventative approach to heart disease. As the authors of the article put it, ‘[it is probable that … this one decision] has caused more harm and premature death to New Zealand patients than any of their other maneuvers.’

“Americans want health care reform. But they don’t want reform that destroys what’s good about American health care in the process. They don’t want a government bureaucrat making arbitrary decisions about which drugs they or their loved ones can or cannot take to treat an illness. And they don’t want to be told they have to give up the care they have. Americans don’t want a government-run health plan. And they certainly don’t want a government board to dictate their health care coverage. They want real reform that solves the problems they face without sacrificing the benefits they enjoy.”