Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Health Care Reform

Posted on August 6, 2009

Madam President, we are concerned about the health care reform legislation that we have seen in the House and here in the Senate. It is headed in the wrong direction. The Mayo Clinic has told us so. The Democratic Governors have told us so. The CBO has told us so. We are hearing already from people around the country who fear that millions of people may lose their employer-based health insurance and may find themselves in a government-run plan, with new State taxes to pay for Medicaid. My purpose is to point out that as we go back to our States in August, there is plenty of opportunity to go in a new direction. I hope when we come back, we will start over in that direction. As an example yesterday, 12 Senators -- 7 Democrats and 5 Republicans -- wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about the Healthy Americans Act, the bill that is sponsored by Senator Wyden, a Democrat, and Senator Bennett, a Republican. I am a cosponsor among the 5 Republicans on that bill. There are a number of things I agree with in the bill and some things with which I don't agree. I agree it is the right framework upon which we can build a bipartisan discussion. For example, the things I like about the bill and the reason I endorse the effort is that it has been scored as budget neutral. In other words, it doesn't add to the deficit, according to the CBO. It doesn't create a government-run plan to compete with private insurance plans. People would have choices among private plans just like most people have today. It replaces Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program with private insurance plans. It doesn't replace all of Medicaid, but about 40 million of the people who are on Medicaid today, which is the largest government-run program we have, would have a choice to buy plans like the rest of us. I think one of the worse things about the bills we are seeing is that it dumps low-income Americans into a government-run program that is failing -- Medicaid -- that 40 percent of the doctors will not see, and that none of us would want to join if we were forced to do so. This proposal takes away that problem. The Healthy Americans Act makes a fairer distribution of the government subsidies we already spend subsidizing health care by giving more Americans a chance to benefit from that. It would give more Americans a chance to purchase the same kind of health insurance policy Federal employees and Members of Congress have. It provides a tax deduction for all American individuals and families to address the unfairness of our tax system. It includes an individual mandate. In other words, no free ride. We are all in this together. States that implement some sort of reforms against junk runaway lawsuits against doctors, which drive up the cost of malpractice insurance, will receive bonus payments. It also includes some of the insurance market reforms about which we are hearing so much from our Democratic friends. What they don't tell you is we are all for those changes. These are the insurance reforms that say you will have a right to purchase insurance without a physical examination, and if you have a problem when you go in to get the insurance, you cannot be denied insurance for that reason. These are insurance reforms that virtually all Republican plans I have seen, and all the Democratic plans, have already in there. Those aren't the issue. It provides a full subsidy to people living under 100 percent of the Federal poverty level to buy insurance, a private plan. This would mean roughly $5,000 for an individual and $12,000 for families to buy a plan. Americans earning between 100 to 400 percent of the Federal poverty level will receive subsidies on a sliding scale. After that, you pay for it yourself. There are some points I don't like about the bill, but I endorse the framework, as well. I will mention those. I don't like the employer responsibility provisions. During negotiations, if this were the bill we were discussing, I would urge to change that. I don't like the fact that plans are required to be at the higher benefit level of the Federal employee plans. That is a level higher than most Federal employees have, and we can save dollars if we use the basic plan and use that money to provide higher subsidies to middle-income Americans to buy health insurance. I don't believe the subsidies in this bill are enough for many middle-income families. I have suggested a place to get some of that money. We phase out the tax deduction at $62,500 a year, which may not be high enough to make this a fair proposal. I am concerned about the abortion provisions in the bill, although it doesn't provide government subsidies for abortion. The point is, there is a framework that is headed in a different direction, and it has the support of 12 Senators. I ask unanimous consent that the op-ed from the Washington Post be printed in the Record following my remarks. I also ask unanimous consent that an article by Art Laffer in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, which provides yet another reasonable option for providing health care opportunities for Americans without adding to the deficit, be printed in the Record following my remarks. Madam President, there is a way to do this if we want to head in a different direction. I yield the floor.