Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Health Care Bill Is the Same Old Turkey You Didn’t Like in August

Posted on November 22, 2009

What Republicans want as we debate the Senate Democrats’ health care plan is very simple. We want to make sure the American people have a chance to read Majority Leader Harry Reid’s bill and know exactly what it costs and exactly how it will affect them. That is not an unreasonable request. Senator Reid’s bill—which he has been writing in secret for the past six weeks—is appropriate for the season: It’s the same turkey you didn’t like in August, and it’s not going to taste any better on Thanksgiving. Not much has changed. The bill still means higher premiums, it still means higher taxes, and it still cuts Medicare. It’s still 2,000 pages, and it still costs more than $2 trillion when fully implemented — and that doesn’t take into account a quarter-trillion-dollar doctors’ Medicare reimbursement. And it still sends struggling states new Medicaid costs that will force states to raise taxes or damage higher education or both. It still leaves 24 million Americans uninsured. There are also $28 billion in new taxes on employers who have to pay a fine when they don't provide employer-based insurance. Under this bill, the chances are very good you could lose the insurance you have today. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says about five million Americans will lose their employer-sponsored insurance. It could be a lot more since employers will read this big, complicated bill and say, “I don't want anything to do with that. I would rather pay the fine. I will write a check to the government. Then I will write a letter to all of my employees and say: ‘Congratulations, there is a new government plan, and you are in it.’” You might be asking what that government plan will look like. Well, take the largest one we have, Medicaid (which we call TennCare in Tennessee), for low-income Americans. Fifty percent of doctors will not see new patients in that program because of the low government reimbursement rates. Senator Reid’s bill relies on the states to pay for some of Medicaid, which concerns me greatly as your former governor. Our current Democratic governor said earlier versions of this bill would add $1 billion or more to state taxes or spending over the next five years which could require a new state income tax or seriously damage higher education—or both. There is also a new Medicare payroll tax. The money that is raised from that is not spent on Grandma; it’s not spent on fixing Medicare. It is spent on a new program. So we are going to cut Medicare and tax Medicare and not spend it on Medicare, which is going broke in 2015. We need to start over. We should move step-by-step to reduce to re-earn the trust of the American people and lower health care costs. There’s still time to act on those steps which Republicans have repeatedly proposed: let small businesses pool resources for health insurance; allow purchasing of health insurance across state lines; end junk lawsuits against doctors; eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse; expand health savings accounts; and promote wellness and prevention.