Wicker Says Health Care Debate Continues Down Wrong Path

October 19, 2009

The health care debate continued down the wrong path last week with the Senate Finance Committee’s approval of a deeply flawed bill.  The measure would raise taxes, cut Medicare, increase government spending, and actually drive the cost of health care up, not down. 

The committee’s bill will not be the final product voted on by the Senate.  Democrat leaders are now meeting behind closed doors to merge it with a more liberal bill previously approved by the Senate Health Committee.  The product of these closed-door deliberations will be what is ultimately brought to the Senate floor for a vote.  The secret nature of these meetings is all the more reason for the final version of the bill to be made available to the public for at least 72 hours prior to a final vote – something I support, as do a number of my Democrat colleagues.

In addition to failing to reduce the price of health care, this plan carries a number of other serious flaws, particularly as it relates to Medicare and health care options for seniors.  The bill cuts $500 billion from Medicare, despite the fact that the program is already insolvent and on the path to bankruptcy by 2017.  Billions of dollars would be cut from hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice care.  The proposal would also slash $120 billion from Medicare Advantage, the highly popular program that provides 11 million seniors health care choices and options that regular Medicare does not offer. 

If these provisions were not bad enough, state budgets would also be negatively impacted by the Medicaid expansion called for in this bill.  In Mississippi, we have firsthand knowledge of the strains the current Medicaid program already places on our budget.  Expanding Medicaid would only exacerbate the problem, threatening essential services like education and law enforcement.  Medicaid payments already make up 12 percent of our state’s overall budget, and Governor Barbour has joined a growing chorus of governors – both Republican and Democrat – in warning of the consequences of Congress forcing them to shoulder more of the Medicaid burden. 

                                        NEW DIRECTION NEEDED
Raising taxes, increasing costs, and eliminating choice is hardly the type of health care reform the American people want – particularly during a time when unemployment levels are at a 25-year high.  I believe we can do better, and I have joined my Republican colleagues in pushing for many common sense reforms that could pass Congress quickly with bipartisan support. 

By allowing people to purchase health insurance across state lines, implementing medical malpractice reform, and allowing small businesses to join in association health plans, we can lower the cost of health care and increase choice without raising taxes or increasing government spending.  That is the kind of reform the American people deserve, and it is the direction the health care debate should be headed.