Wicker: Public Health Option is “Bait and Switch” Tactic

August 3, 2009

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the current health care reform proposals:

In the ongoing debate on health care reform, it has become clearer and clearer that this is really a competition of two very different philosophies of government.

On the one hand, there are those who think government ought to be the primary sponsor of almost everything, including our American health care system. These persons basically hope and fervently believe things would be better in this country if only the federal government took control of more aspects of our society.

The other approach is one that I have advocated. It is the philosophy held by those of us who look at history and realize that government just doesn't run things very well. We believe government can and should set standards, establish goals, and create incentives for the right behavior. But we do not believe the federal government should run health care or, for that matter, is capable of running the American health care system.

The debate so far this year has been very instructive for this Congress and for the taxpayers. Here are some things we've already learned as a result of the very thorough process we've gone through.

First, we know that instead of saving money for our economy, as we were promised during the 2008 campaign, health care spending will actually go up under the Democrats' proposals.  This is true both short-term and also in the long-run.

Secondly, we've been informed by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that both the House and Senate bills would add to the federal deficit.

Third, according to a C.B.O. letter dated July 17, millions of Americans would lose their private health coverage if these plans are enacted and millions more would be forced into a government plan. This is not me talking, Madam President. This is the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Fourth, small businesses and other job creators will pay higher taxes, including specifically $163 billion in penalties and $543 billion in other taxes if the Democratic plans are enacted.

Fifth, the provisions of these risky schemes could reduce job creation. Again quoting the nonpartisan C.B.O. -- "The play-or-pay provision could reduce the hiring of low-wage workers."

One has to wonder if you’re a job applicant out there in our economy, looking to earn a living, applying for a job, would you rather see a federal takeover of the health care system or would you rather have a job. I think most American job seekers given that choice would say I want a job; don't reduce my chances of getting that job.

And then we learned just a few days ago that the Medicaid provisions of these proposals could amount to a massive cost-shift to the states. The outcry against this has been loud and it has been bipartisan.

Here's what two-term Democratic Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen had to say recently. He called the proposal "the mother of all unfunded mandates." Governor Bredesen went on to say, "Medicaid is a poor vehicle for expanding coverage. It's a 45-year-old system originally designed for women and children. It's not health care reform to dump more money into Medicaid." The word of Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen from Tennessee. And Governor Bredesen is not an isolated example.

At the National Governors' Association meeting recently in Biloxi, Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democratic, said the legislation currently making its way through Congress would unfairly burden states.

Here is some good advice from Governor Schweitzer -- and I quote -- "What we need Congress to do is cost control.  Cost control is something that would actually help in health care reform." And I appreciate Governor Schweitzer calling for it. I'm grateful to Governor Schweitzer for his honest assessment. In fact, the American people owe a debt of gratitude to Democrat and Republican governors for speaking the truth. These governors may have saved us from a catastrophe by speaking out and telling us what the consequences are as states struggle to meet their current obligations.

Indeed, there is a great deal of bipartisanship emerging on the issue of health care reform. And that bipartisanship is coming in the form of alarm; alarm about what the bills propose to do to state budgets, to small businesses, to job creation, and choice and health care.

We're also learning when it comes to the discussion of the so-called "public plan," or "public option," there's a great amount of bait and switch lurking about. Now, bait and switch is basically a form of fraud or trickery that goes on, unfortunately, in our economy. It's such a problem that the United States Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines warning the public about this practice. Here is a direct quote from 16 CFR Part 238 entitled "Guides against bait advertising."

The FTC says -- and I quote -- "bait advertising is an insincere offer to sell a product or service which the advertiser in truth does not intend or want to sell. Its purpose is to switch consumers from buying the advertised merchandise in order to sell something else." One thing is advertised and the other is attempted to be sold. I think this is exactly what's going on in the debate over the public option. We're being offered the promise of genuine competition between the public plan and private insurance plans. When, in fact, the purpose is to switch Americans to a European-style single payer plan down the road.

By now it is abundantly clear that citizens of the United States do not want to risk putting our country on a path toward a single-payer plan like the ones in Canada or Great Britain. Americans do not want a single-payer system. The leadership of both parties - House and Senate - understands this fact. The American public does not want a wholesale government takeover of one-sixth of our economy. We don't want waiting lists like in Canada. We don't want rationing like in the United Kingdom.

So realizing where public opinion is on this pivotal issue, the advocates of these congressional Democratic plans have gone to great lengths to assure people they don't want a single-payer option, either. These reassurances have come from as high as the White House itself. Just last week in North Carolina President Obama said, "Nobody is talking about some government takeover of health care.  These folks need to stop scaring everybody."

I wish that were true, Madam President, but with due respect to our Chief Executive there's a reason people are frightened. They're paying attention and they see that sponsors of this legislation are, in fact, advocating a government takeover.

I found it interesting that one day after the president's remarks I turned on the news to see one of the most senior Democratic chairman in the House of Representatives seem to contradict the president. Here's the exact quote from this leading member of the House on the consequences of a public option. He said, "I think if we get a good single option it could lead to a single-payer, and that’s the best way to reach single-payer."

I wonder what the Federal Trade Commission would say about that type of enticement.  To me it says let's lure people into a public plan when we know it will eventually lead to a single-payer down the road. I don't want to take that risk, Madam President.

Another leading House advocate of the public option had this to say about a path to a single-payer system: "This is a fight about strategy and about getting there," meaning the single-payer option, “and I believe we will,” stated this senior member of the House.

I think most folks would call this a classic legislative bait and switch.

I recently ran across a blog from Dr. Michael Swicker, of New Mexico, cautioning about this tactic. Here’s what Dr. Swicker said, “Given the track record of our government in bait and switch, all of the promises of national health care are just that, promises to be broken. Maybe there will be a few years before the impact of the bait and switch is felt by citizens, but given the past actions of our government with implementing programs our future is clear."

I hope we can avoid that future for our country. But the writer's point is this: it may take a while but the pattern is there. The future he fears includes a single-payer takeover that very few Americans would vote for today.

I would say to my colleagues: there's much to be said about the ill effects of the health care proposals being put forward by the House and Senate committees. But among the most troublesome aspects of this so-called reform is the enactment of a public plan which will inevitably lead to a single-payer system Americans don't want and don't need.

Don't take my word for it on the cost. On the loss of choice and on the effect on small business job creators. Just read the words of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

On the issue of massive, unsustainable cost-shifting to state governments, don’t take my word for it, listen to the experienced Democratic governors pleading with us not to go down this road.

And when it comes to whether the goal of this whole exercise is to move us to a European single-payer plan, it is no longer necessary to heed the warnings of the political conservatives. When you listen closely, the leading advocate of the House and Senate legislation in their unguarded moments are willing to admit that a single-payer government takeover is their ultimate dream. I hope we do not go down that road.

Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.