Wicker on Health Care Reform: Preserve What Works and Fix What Is Broken

June 10, 2009

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today made the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the need to fix what is broken and preserve what works when pursuing health care reform: 

“Of all the complex issues the United States will deal with in this Congress, none will be more important than health care reform. Of all the momentous decisions we will make over the next few months, none will be more consequential or long-lasting than the votes we may take regarding the one-sixth of the American economy which comprises our health care system.

“If we get it right, we could devise a program that makes health care more accessible and affordable, provides health coverage to millions of Americans who are currently without health insurance, relieves Americans from worry about the effect changing jobs will have on their health care, saves lives through an increased focus on prevention and wellness, saves money by curbing the out-of-control growth in government health care programs, keeps patients and families in control of their health care choices, and makes doctors the decision makers on treatment options.

“We have a great opportunity before us to improve the American health care system, but we run a perilous risk if we do not act wisely and carefully.

“We can fix our broken health care system by making it more accessible and affordable for Americans, and we can do so without jeopardizing quality, individual choice, and personalized care.

“The American people need us to act on this issue, but they do not need or us to act rashly. We do not need to enact a Washington takeover or a scheme that would inevitably lead to a government takeover of one-sixth of our gross domestic product.

“I recently spoke with a resident of a country that is a major U.S. ally. He espoused the benefits of his country's government health care program, explaining in particular detail how the program works there. But then I posed a question: ‘What happens in your country if you get cancer?’ He smiled and said: ‘If I get cancer, I am going to the United States.’ He is going to the United States.

“It was a very telling answer that points up a profound truth: There are many things we need to fix about American health care, but there are a number of things we do right. There are a number of things right about our system, and we don't need to risk losing those things that today give Americans the highest quality health care system in the world.

“Nine out of ten middle-aged American women have had a mammogram--90 percent of American women--compared to less than three-fourths of Canadian women. More than half of American men have had a prostate test compared to less than one in six Canadians. Nearly one-third of Americans have had a colonoscopy compared to less than 5 percent of Canadians. These are statistics we need to be proud of as compared to our Western allies.

“In addition to this focus in America on prevention, we also spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the United Kingdom. Canadian and British patients wait about twice as long--sometimes more than a year--to see a specialist. We don't need health care reform that moves us in that direction. 827,429 people today, at this very moment, are waiting for some sort of procedure in Canada, and 1.8 million people in England are waiting for a hospital admission or outpatient treatment. They are having to wait for that in England.

“We Americans also have better access to new technologies such as medical imaging than patients in Canada or the United Kingdom. Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations. The top five U.S. hospitals--only five top U.S. hospitals--conduct more clinical trials than all the hospitals in any other single developed country. Only the top five outrank any other country in the world in clinical trials. We ought to be proud of that. We ought not to enact any program that would jeopardize that type of innovation.

“Since the mid-1970s, the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology has gone to American residents more often than recipients from all other countries combined. We get results based on our innovation and our research in the United States of America.

“All these numbers translate into one very important fact: Americans have a better 5-year survival rate than Europeans for common cancers.

“For example, in the area of colon cancer, we have a 65-percent five-year survival rate in America, compared to only 50 percent in the United Kingdom. For prostate cancer, we have a 93-percent survival rate for 5 years in the United States; only 77 percent in the United Kingdom. In breast cancer, 90 percent of Americans who suffer from breast cancer have a five-year survival rate; only 82 percent in the United Kingdom. For thyroid cancer that figure is a 94-percent five-year survival rate and only 75 percent in the United Kingdom.

“Put another way, breast cancer mortality is 52 percent higher in Germany with their government-run system than in the United States, and breast cancer mortality is 88 percent higher in the United Kingdom with their government-run health care system. Prostate cancer mortality is 604 percent higher in the United Kingdom and 457 percent higher in Norway.

“Is there a genetic predisposition for the people of Norway to die of prostate cancer or of German women to have breast cancer? I don't think so. I think these numbers, these stubborn facts reflect that our American system of innovation and detection and treatment is a good thing, and as we improve and fix our system, we need to be careful to maintain that type of quality.

“There are broken parts of our system, to be sure, but my point today is to urge this body to consider the consequences of all the options we will consider. There is no question we need to make health care more affordable and we need to expand access.

“Republicans support providing affordable access to coverage for every American, and we can do that without a Washington, DC, takeover of health care. What we cannot afford the risk of doing is eroding the quality of care in pursuit of our goals this year. The surest way to destroy quality is to hand the reins of health care over to the Federal Government.

“I recently had the opportunity to discuss health care with a member of the British House of Commons. That member of Parliament said: Whatever you do, do not do what we did in the United Kingdom.

“A Washington takeover of health care would result in a stifling of innovation. I am convinced it would result in long waits. As we consider a so-called public option, a public plan, we need to ask ourselves: Will it lead, as I believe it will, to a one-size-fits-all Washington takeover of health care and inevitably mean that our citizens will be denied and delayed the health care we need?

“We need to be careful as we answer that question. I regret to say the plan I see taking shape on the other side of the aisle would result in either a politician or a bureaucrat making your health care decisions instead of you and your doctor. I urge my colleagues to protect innovation and to protect quality.

“I am convinced we can protect the doctor-patient relationship and make health care more affordable and accessible for all without jeopardizing the quality I have spoken about this afternoon. I believe all of us in this body want a solution that works for Americans.

“There is common ground to be found that would continue the opportunity for the United States to be that world leader in quality. Congress and the American people need to pay close attention as we proceed this summer and this fall on one of the most important debates in our time.”