Senator Roberts: Health Care Reform Too Important, Should Not Be Tackled Hastily

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) today called for more time for careful consideration of health care reform. Roberts wrote a letter signed by all Republican members of the Finance Committee and the Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to the Chairmen of these Committees, relaying these concerns.

Senator Roberts delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor today:

"Our system of health care produces some of the best care in the world and it is the driver of a substantial share of the medical innovations that have wiped out diseases, improved our comfort and extended our time on this earth.

"However this system is not truly accessible to everybody and that’s what this entire debate really boils down to: your ability to go see the doctor of your choice when you need to see him or her. In our rural areas in Kansas, we struggle with attracting and retaining doctors and keeping the doors open to our hospitals, pharmacies and clinics. In our urban areas like Kansas City and Wichita, providers face different challenges that are just as daunting and which threaten patients’ ability to access health care to the same degree.

"On top of that, although some 250 million Americans have health insurance, somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 to 47 million do not, which makes accessing health care expensive and challenging for them. In addition, the government-run Medicare program, which is going bankrupt by the way, does not pay doctors (and pharmacists and ambulance drivers and nurses, etc...) enough to cover their costs. Unless these providers have a non-Medicare patient population to recoup their losses from, they cannot stay in business and their patients lose out.

 

"As a Member of both the Finance and HELP Committees and the co-Chair of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, I am grateful to be able to participate in this complex and difficult effort to reform our health care system into one that guarantees meaningful access for all Americans. However, this effort to date has been a tale of two cities, if you will. The tale of rhetoric versus that of reality. The promise of cooperation contrasted with the fact of partisanship.

"Let me explain. President Obama, who ran as a "post-partisan" candidate, has made many overtures to Republicans indicating his desire for this process to be a bipartisan one. Today in the HELP Committee we have just begun the process of walking through a 615-page bill that we are scheduled to mark up next Tuesday. This bill does not have one single Republican contribution as far as I can tell. Moreover, it is incomplete, with many details missing - for example, the small detail of how much it will cost. The Finance Committee has conducted a better process so far, and I’d like to thank Chairman Baucus, Ranking Member Grassley and their staffs for their efforts, but we still have not seen a detailed proposal or cost estimates - and we are being pushed to mark something up in the next few weeks.

"I want everyone to understand why this is important, why I am down here rambling on about process. It’s not because I do not want health care reform. I want every single Kansan and every single American to be able to see the doctor of their choice when they want to. I’m down here today because this health care reform bill, whatever it ends up looking like, will likely be the biggest, most important vote that I or any one of my colleagues casts during the time we are privileged to serve.

"This health care reform bill will affect the lives of every single American. It will reform a system that drives one-sixth of our economy and over 16 million American jobs. And it will spend upwards of $2 trillion that our children and grandchildren will have to someday repay. If we are going to do this, we cannot afford to get it wrong.

"For this reason, I spearheaded a letter on behalf of all of my Republican colleagues on the Senate Finance and HELP Committees asking the Chairmen of those respective committees (and Senator Dodd who is serving in Senator Kennedy’s absence) to give this process the time and the careful consideration that it deserves.

"Our requests are extremely reasonable: first, provide us with your detailed plan with enough time for us to read it, understand it, and get feedback from our constituents back home. Second: provide us with cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Tax Committee. And third: identify how it will be paid for. Asking for these details is absolutely fair under the circumstances. In fact, I would be ignoring my responsibilities to my constituents back home in Kansas if I did not demand that these conditions be met. Every single Republican member of the Finance and HELP Committees signed my letter. And every single one expressed the desire to work with our colleagues to achieve bipartisan health care reform.

"I see no reason why the Senate should shove through a bill that has this much at stake. Time out. Slow down. Give us the details. That’s all we are asking for. The people of this great nation deserve nothing less."