Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - The Wrong Way to Fix Health Care

Posted on July 22, 2009

Mr. President, I was listening to the Senator from California, and with respect to her comments let me state the position of the Republican Senators on health care reform. Our leader, Mitch McConnell, the Senator from Kentucky, stated yesterday to the news media: This isn't about winning or losing. This is about getting it right. Health care is very personal to every one of us, to every one of our families, and to all the American people. Our goal, on the Republican side, and I am sure for many Democrats as well, is to start with cost and make sure we can say to the American people they can afford their health care policy; and when we have finished fixing health care, they can afford their government. So far, that has not been the case. We have offered plans which we believe will reach that goal. Just to give my own example: Last year, I joined with Senator Wyden, a Democrat; Senator Bennett, a Republican, in endorsing their plan. It is not perfect, but it is a very good plan, and it has a completely different approach than the bill that came out of the Senate HELP Committee or that is coming through the House. I believe it is a better approach. The point is there are 14 Senators on that plan today -- 8 Democrats and 6 Republicans. Why isn't it being considered? It doesn't have a government-run program in it. Why shouldn't we talk about not having a government-run program? Medicaid, the largest government-run program we have today, is used to cover low-income Americans and forces them to take their health care in a system that 40 percent of America's doctors won't serve because, in general, they are paid about half as much for their services as they are if they serve the 177 million of us who have private health insurance. The Wyden-Bennett bill is constructed along the idea of rearranging the subsidies we already give to the American people for health care and gives it to everyone in a way that will permit them -- all the American people -- to afford a health insurance plan that is about the same plan that congressional employees have. Literally, we would say to low-income Americans: Here, take this money and buy a private insurance plan of your own, like the rest of us do. This is a much better idea than dumping 20 million more people into a failed government program called Medicaid -- which is not only not serving those low-income people but bankrupting States, What is wrong with that idea, 14 of us think it ought to be considered? Yet it has not been given the time of day. Senator Coburn and Senator Burr have proposals that I have endorsed. Senator Gregg has a proposal. Senator Hatch has a proposal. None of them have been given the time of day. We have had very friendly discussions, but they do not qualify as bipartisan discussions. I give the Senate Finance Committee members great credit for trying to work in a bipartisan way, but they are working in a bipartisan way that is still going in the wrong direction, which is expanding an existing government plan that has failed -- Medicaid -- they are working on creating a new government plan for people who lose their health care under the theories that have been proposed. Don't think they are not. I would hope the President would see what is happening and say: Whoa, let's slow down. I have stated what I want. I have put my neck out. I have said to the American people, if they have a health care plan they like, they can keep it. Unfortunately, under the plans we see today, they are going to lose their health care. They have a very good risk of losing their health care and ending up, if they are poor, with their only option being a failed government program that none of us would join, if we could possibly avoid it. Why would we stuff 20 million people into a program we don't want to be in, when we could give them the opportunity to be in a program similar to the one we are in? That is what we should be doing. On the Republican side, we are saying to our Democratic colleagues: We know you have the majority. We know you have the Presidency. But we have some ideas we think the American people would benefit from. We only have one chance to pass this, to change this big system we have, and we better make sure we do it right. If you don't want to take our advice, we would say, respectfully: Why don't you listen to some others? There is the Mayo Clinic. The Senator from California asked: Why are they talking about government programs? Because the Mayo Clinic -- often cited by the President, by many of us, as the kind of high-quality, good results, low-cost health care we would like to have more of -- the Iowa Clinic, the Marshfield Clinic, and other clinics say these health care plans are headed in the wrong direction, and one reason is because they would create a new government plan which would eventually drive the Mayo Clinic and these other clinics out of the market, which means they wouldn't be serving Medicare patients. So why would we do that? I think we should take our time and get it right. If the Mayo Clinic is saying we are heading in the wrong direction, if the Democratic Governors are saying that, if the Congressional Budget Office is saying we are adding to the cost and adding to the debt, wouldn't the wise thing be to say: Well, maybe they have a point. Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat from my State, knows a lot about health care -- Medicaid -- and he says Congress is about to bestow "the mother of all unfunded mandates." Governor Bredesen, a former health care executive, continued: Medicaid is a poor vehicle for expanding coverage. It is a 45-year-old system originally designed for poor women and children. It is not health care reform to dump more money into Medicaid. Here is the Governor of Washington, a Democrat. As a governor, my concern is if we try to cost-shift to the States we're not going to be in a position to pick up the tab. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democratic Governor, said: I'm personally very concerned about the cost issue, particularly the $1 trillion figures being batted around. Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado, a Democrat. There's a concern about whether they have fully figured out a revenue stream that would cover the costs, and that if they don't have all the dollars accounted for it will fall on the States. So said Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont. And Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana said: The governors are concerned about unfunded mandates, another situation where the Federal government says you must do X and you must pay for it. Well, if they want to reform health care, they should figure out what the rules are and how they are going to pay for it. So instead of standing on the other side and saying the Republicans are saying no, I am saying the Republicans are saying yes. We support the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett bill. We have offered the Burr-Coburn bill. We have offered the Gregg bill. We have the Hatch bill. Take our proposals and consider the ideas because they do not involve government-run programs, they do not dump low-income people into Medicaid, where you would not be able to see a doctor. That is akin to giving someone a bus ticket to a route with no buses. We already do it with 60 million people, so why should we do it with 80 million people, which is the suggestion we have. We want to work with the President and with our friends on the Democratic side to come up with health care reform this year. We want to be able to say to the American people: We want a plan you can afford for yourself. And when we’re finish fixing it, we want a government you can afford. If the Mayo Clinic and the Democratic Governors and the Congressional Budget Office are all saying we are headed in the wrong direction, then why don't we start over and work together and try to get a result we can live with for the next 30 or 40 years? We can only do this once, and we need to do it right.