Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) “Health Care: Every American Insured”

Posted on March 2, 2008

Republican members of the U.S. Senate are committed to providing every American with genuine access to quality, affordable health care that protects the sacred doctor-patient relationship. The words that Senate Republicans could most easily agree on – and there might not be much objection among the Democrats – are “every American insured.” There is a step-by-step process to get to that. We have over 800,000 Tennesseans without health insurance. We have about 47 million Americans without health insurance. We are at a time in our history where reports by distinguished journals of medicine – such as the New England Journal of Medicine, the Institute of Medicine, and the Trust for America's Health – say today's children are likely to be the first generation to live shorter, less healthier lives than their parents. That is a health care crisis. At the same time, the most rapidly growing part of the federal budget is spending for Medicare and Medicaid. It is growing so rapidly we can't sustain it, so we need an overhaul of our health care system. We need to lower health care costs for the average family so each family can be able to afford at least a basic health insurance policy that doesn't go away when they lose their job. On the way to lowering health care costs and giving every American access to such a health care insurance policy are several pieces of legislation, many of them bipartisan, which we could pass this year. For example, legislation sponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John Ensign (R-NV) would encourage the use of electronic prescriptions – or “e-prescribing” – for transmitting prescription information from doctors to pharmacists in order to eliminate the medical errors, injuries, hospitalizations, and deaths that result each year from illegible prescriptions. In addition, we could pass legislation to allow small business health plans this year. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) has been the leader on this issue, and he has worked on legislation that basically would allow small businesses to pool their resources in order to offer health insurance to their employees at an affordable rate – to let them do the same thing big businesses can do. Senator Enzi estimates that could provide insurance to more than 1 million Americans who are not now insured. I have cosponsored legislation offered by Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) to help get rid of fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid. Tens of billions of dollars are wasted there, and it would lower health care costs to pass the Martinez legislation. I also have cosponsored legislation offered by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) that would put limits on damages from lawsuits against doctors who serve pregnant women. Medical malpractice insurance has gone sky high – over $100,000 a year because of lawsuits in some states. As a result, the doctors are leaving the rural areas, and pregnant women are forced to drive 40, 50, 60 miles for prenatal health care or to deliver their babies because the doctors aren't in their hometowns anymore. In a few places such as Mississippi, Texas, and Kentucky, steps have been taken to say: As long as you are damaged, you can collect, but there is a limit on the damages in those states. Where the rules have been changed, doctors are moving back into those states and back into rural areas which, in turn, lowers health care costs. Most Americans like the fact that we are working across the aisle to try to make real the idea that every American can have access to health insurance, and we are willing to include – and we would emphasize – the private sector in that solution. We have a whole year. This is a presidential election year. That doesn't mean we should take a vacation. We got off to a pretty good start by enacting the bipartisan stimulus package. I suggest that Republicans are ready to join with Democrats and take steps this year toward the goal of every American insured. ###