Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - The Baucus Health Care Bill Estimate is Too Good to Be True

Posted on October 11, 2009

A few years after I was governor of Tennessee—it must have been in the early ‘90s—I was driving along in Nashville minding my own business and I had the radio on. The announcer basically said, “Big news. The Tennessee legislature has passed a new law creating a program called TennCare that would be run as part of the national Medicaid program. It’s going to cover twice as many people for the same amount of money.” Everyone was happy about that. Nobody had to raise taxes; nobody had to raise any more money; twice as many people got health care. And I remember what went through my mind was, “I bet that doesn’t happen. That sounds too good to be true.” Well, the same idea went through my mind when I picked up the paper last week and read that the Senate Finance Committee had finished its work and that its health care bill would cover 29 million more Americans. It’s going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars more, and it’s going to reduce the federal deficit all at once. What went through my mind was, again, “That sounds too good to be true. It sounds like the Tennessee TennCare story.” We know it’s going to cost about a $trillion more than the $800 billion advertised because it doesn’t take effect for a few years. The taxes start right away, but the benefits don’t start for a few years. That is the first thing. The second thing is, it is going to put 14 million more people into the Medicaid Program – not Medicare, but Medicaid. States operate their own version of Medicaid (ours is TennCare), two-thirds of which is paid for by the federal government and a third by the states. The majority of governors have basically said: “If Washington is going to expand the Medicaid program, Washington ought to pay for it.” I suspect when we start asking questions, we will find that Medicaid costs are underestimated. If we’ll take the time to read the bill and find out what it costs, we’ll find it really doesn’t reduce the deficit. But even if it did, it’s going to cost $1.8 trillion, and who is going to pay for it? Half of it is going to come from cuts in Medicare. We really need to start over to get it right. The first goal for health care reform should be reducing costs, which is why the Republican plan is to take several commonsense steps in the right direction to reduce the costs of health care for you and your government and re-earn the trust of the American people. We need to allow small businesses to pool their resources so that they can offer insurance to more of their employees. We need to reform medical malpractice laws so runaway, junk lawsuits don’t continue to drive doctors out—and costs up. We have 95 counties in Tennessee, and in 60 of them we don't have an OB/GYN doctor because their medical malpractice insurance is too expensive to practice in rural areas. So, pregnant women have to drive a long way—to Memphis or Nashville—for their prenatal care or to have their babies. We should allow Americans the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines – as they can with car insurance today. And we should create health insurance exchanges, so Americans can easily find affordable coverage, and make it so Americans aren’t denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. These are just a few of the things Congress can do now to fix the health-care system. And by taking those steps, we can re-earn the trust of the American people.