Speeches & Floor Statements

Opening Statement: To Really Improve Americans’ Health, Connect Wellness Programs and Employer Insurance

Posted on October 19, 2017

For the last seven years, we have been in a political stalemate over the Affordable Care Act, with most of the disagreement being over a very small part of the health insurance market – the individual market where the six percent of insured Americans buy their health insurance.

I am pleased that Senator Murray and I are going to the Senate floor later today to release our limited, short-term bipartisan agreement to stabilize the individual market for the next two years. 

Our stalemate over really all of health care for seven years makes it even more refreshing to today talk about a health care issue on which most Americans – doctors, employers, Republicans and Democrats – agree.

That consensus is that a healthy lifestyle leads to longer and better lives, and reduces the nation’s health care costs.

According to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health care spending in the United States has grown from consuming 9 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in 1980 to nearly 18 percent, or $3.2 trillion in 2015, and a predicted 20 percent in 2025.   

The Cleveland Clinic, which is represented by one of our witnesses today, has said if you achieve at least four of six “normal” measures of good health and two “behaviors,” you will avoid chronic disease about 80 percent of the time.

These six indicators of good health are:

Blood pressure

Cholesterol level

Blood sugar

Body Mass Index

Smoking status, and

The ability to fulfill the physical requirements of your job.

The two behaviors are seeing your primary care physician regularly and keeping immunizations up to date.

Again, if you hit four of the six indicators and keep up the two behaviors, according to the Cleveland Clinic, you will avoid chronic disease 80% of the time. 

This is important because we spend more than 84 percent of our health care costs or $2.6 trillion treating chronic diseases.

That is something on which almost everyone agrees. 

So let’s add that to another obvious fact.

About 60 percent of Americans get their health insurance on the job.

So if we really want to focus on improving the quality of health care in America, why not connect the consensus about wellness to the insurance policies that 178 million Americans get from their job. 

That is precisely what the Affordable Care Act attempted to do in 2010.

In fact, it was one of the only parts of the ACA on which nearly everyone agreed.

Today’s hearing is about how successful wellness initiatives have been, and what we can do to make it easier to encourage people to lead healthier lives and reduce health care costs. 

Many employers have developed wellness programs to incentivize people to make healthier choices.

These programs may reward behaviors such as exercising, eating better or quitting smoking, or offer employees a percentage off their insurance premiums for doing things like maintaining a healthy weight or keeping their cholesterol levels in check.

These programs have the potential to save employers money and improve the health and wellbeing of their employees.  

·Steve Burd – one of our witnesses – as CEO of Safeway, started a successful employee wellness program that I hope he will talk about – so that’s one part of it. 

I would also like to hear about what communities and the federal government are doing to encourage healthy lifestyle choices.

For example, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee partnered with local, state, and private organizations to fund community level initiatives across the state, such as “Fitness Zones” in Chattanooga, programs in rural counties to promote healthy habits, and an interactive elementary school program to keep kids moving.

An example of encouraging wellness at the federal level is the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program, an intervention program for Medicare recipients diagnosed as pre-diabetic to prevent type 2 diabetes. Medicare spent an estimated $42 billion more in 2016 on people with diabetes than it would have spent if those recipients did not have diabetes.    

These are other ways to encourage healthy behavior, but it is hard to think of a better way to make a bigger impact on the health of millions of Americans than to connect the consensus about wellness to employer-based insurance for 178 million people.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.