Saturday, August 1, 2009

Health Care: The Continuing Saga

I sometimes wonder why I take the time to write to the members in Congress who supposedly represent 'ME.' It's obvious that Rep. Heller and I are at odds with one another on most things, and there's apparently nothing I can do to change his mind ... or should I say ... deviate from the party line.

My latest foray into letter writing has been with respect to the healthcare debates taking place in Congress. I wrote Rep. Heller (I wrote Senators Reid and Ensign as well) to ask him to make sure that a public plan is included in the final legislation, that they look at and fix other systemic problems within governmental agencies that contribute to higher medical and insurance costs, and that when all was said and done, that Members of Congress should be covered by the same plan that they ultimately make available to the American public at large.

I got my response back from Rep. Heller today. Here's what he had to say:

"Thank you for contacting me to express your support for efforts t make Members of Congress enroll in the government-run healthcare plan proposed in the Democrats' healthcare bill (HR 3200). I appreciate your input on this important issue, and want you to know that I agree with you.

I share your belief that Members of Congress should abide by the same rules the government-run healthcare plan will impose on the American people. As a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, which recently considered the Democrat healthcare bill, I offered an amendment that would have required all Members of Congress and our dependents who choose to receive healthcare coverage to do so through the government-run plan. While my amendment received bipartisan support, it failed on an 18-21 vote. I am very disappointed that my colleagues are not willing to live by the same laws we are about to impose on the American people. I have also cosponsored House Resolution 615, which expresses the sense of Congress that Members who support this government-run plan should enroll in it themselves.

I am very concerned by the current congressional majority's focus on expanding government-run healthcare, which will reduce Americans' health insurance options and make taxpayers responsible for trillions in new spending over the next decade. Introducing a "public plan," which is included in the healthcare bill being considered in the House, would aactually force an estimated 100 million Americans or more from private insurance onto a government plan. Such a proposal is outrageous. Most Americans who have private health insurance are happy with the care they receive and should be able to keep their plan. A taxpayer-funded "public plan" would create an unlevel playing field that would drive many private insurers out of the market — limiting choice for millions of Americans.

Government-run healthcare won't provide the quality care Americans need and deserve. While I understand how some aspencts of a single-payer, nationalized healthcare system may seem attractive, America would do well to learn from other nations' examples before embracing such a policy. For instance, Canada's system recently came under scrutiny by the Canadian Supreme Court because it is failing to deliver healthcare in a timely manner. Many Canadians suffer unnecessarily or die because they cannot see a doctor. Recent reports reveal that thousands of Canadians have to sue their government-run healthcare bureaucracy in order to access the care recommended by their doctor. If that doesn't work, many Canadians actually come to the United States for care.

Instead of relying on big government to fix our healthcare system, Congress should take commonsense steps to ensure the 47 million uninsured Americans have access to health insurance, and reduce the cost of care for all Americans. We must undertake meaningfull medical liability reform, which will reduce overutilization and defensive medicine, which burdens our system with billions in needless costs each year. I have cosponsored legislation that would take significant steps to reduce the number of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, similar to the changes I fought for in Nevada several years ago.

I also support injecting free market principles in the healthcare system through small business health plans, which would allow small businesses to band together to purchase more affordable insurance, as well as prescription drug reimportation, which will lower the cost of life-saving medication. Tackling these issues will bring us closer to a healtcare delivery system that meets the needs of our diverse population. You can be sure I will keep your thoughts regarding healtcare reform in mind as related issues come before Congress.

Again, thank you for contacting me to share your thoughts. Please continue keeping me informed of the issues that matter to you."

Well, I do have to admit that we agree on just two things, (1) that Members of Congress should be subject to the same plan(s) as they legislate for the rest of us, and (2), that something has to be done relative to frivolous medical lawsuits. The rest of his drivel parallels the bold-faced lies the Republican Party is perpetrating on the public at large. I guess they still subscribe to the proposition that if you tell the lie enough times, the masses will begin to believe it is the truth.

He claims that "his amendment" to make Congress subject to the same coverage legislated for the masses failed to garner the requisite number of votes. So, I thought I'd do some rudimentary fact-checking. Since he's a member of the Ways and Means Cmtee, I started there. But no amendments to HR3200 were noted on their website, nor any evidence of votes taken. A similar check on the Energy and Commerce Cmtee site revealed 38 amendments from that committee (none of which were from Heller and none of which were settled with an 18-21 vote). So much for transparency! As to H.Res. 615, yes indeedy, Rep. Heller is a co-sponsor of this resolution, along with 65 other Republicans (it's disappointing to see that no Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors).

I actually took the time to read HR 3200 ... which was quite the ordeal since it weighs in at more than 1,000 pages and definitely isn't an easy read. Maybe Rep. Heller should also take the time to read the bill instead of sitting around the table with his Republican colleagues drinking the latest flavor of Koolaid. For instance:

  • His claim that HR3200 would bring Canadian-style health care to America is seriously bogus. Don't believe me, check out (1) HR 3200 would not legislate a "Canadian-style" healthcare system, and (2) it does not legislate a purely, public-run system of healthcare delivery.

  • HR3200 would not reduce opportunities for families and individuals to obtain insurance. Instead, it would actually increase options available to most Americans. Today, people who aren't employed by a company offering medical benefits most likely can't afford a private policy. People who've lost a job in this economy probably can't even get a private police because of cost and because they most likely would be denied coverage based on a determination of one or more pre-existing conditions. HR3200 would not only disallow the use of pre-existing conditions, but it would help create more economical healthcare exchanges through which those who don't qualify for employer healthcare programs that are much more affordable not just for individuals but families as well.

  • HR3200 would not drive insurance companies out of the business, though it may reduce the outrageous profit margins they have enjoyed over the past decade. The same argument was made when the TVA was created, yet it in no way caused other energy producers to leave the market. In fact, not only do we have regulated utilities today, we have public power producers and even private power producers, so if anything, introduction of the TVA increased competition within the industry. I firmly believe that the introduction of a public healthcare option will increase competion and make health care insurance more affordable for individuals and families throughout our nation.

  • Rep. Heller's claim that HR3200 will cost tax payers "trillions" apparently suffers from some weird form of rounding error. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report delivered to Rep. Rangle (chair of the Ways & Means Cmtee), the net increase in budget deficits over a 10 year period would be $1.042T. So that's more than 1 trillion, but far short of $2T. So his claim that it will cost tax payers "trillions" is a bit of a distortion of facts on record.

  • I haven't a clue where Rep. Heller's getting his information about more than 100 million people being forced off their private insurance and onto a government plan. The CBO's report (pages 4-5) clearly indicates that in an example year of 2017, an additional 3 million individuals are expected to obtain insurance via employer plans, and approximately 29 million would obtain insurance using exchanges (29 million who aren't eligible for employer plans).

  • I challenge Rep. Heller's claim that Government-run healthcare can't or won't provide the quality care Americans need and deserve. Medicare, ActiveMilitary Healthcare and VA Healthcare are government health care programs, all of which provide effective health care for a vast number of Americans. Sure there are a few isolated problems that get blown out of proportion, but I would argue that private health care organizations are plagued by similar blow-ups in the media.

  • Rep. Heller claims that Canadians have to sue their government to obtain health care services. Well, Mr. Heller, have you taken a look at how many US Citizens die every year as they are suing their insurance companies in an attempt to obtain the benefits they had paid for, but never received ... and died while fighting to obtain them? I truly believe that in offering a public insurance exchange option to individuals and families just might finally turn that tide. As individuals and families learn the history of individual insurers in granting and denying cases, they just might have more choices of insurers than they do today, to ensure that they can actually obtain effective health care as needed.
Congress is set to adjourn at the end of this week and it's apparent that not only will HR3200 not see a house vote, a companion bill in the Senate has yet to be wrritten. While Democrats have crafted a bill in the house, Republicans have done nothing but complain, distort facts, and promulgate bold-faced lies and misrepresentations. They've brought nothing to the table, and they have no plans whatsoever to bring anything to the table. They they want to be treated in a bi-partisan way, yet they have no intention of bringing anything to the table but one word, "No." Well, that's not going to do anything to help their constituents who are unable to purchase cost-effective insurance for their families, or unable to get their insurance company to actually pay for claims submitted through policies they've purchased.

It's apparent that my efforts haven't yet made an impression on Mr. Heller, but that doesn't mean I'll give up. I've written him again. Please send an email/letter to your Congressmen (both Senators and Representatives) asking them to craft healthcare reform proposals that will guarantee high-quality and affordable healthcare for all and establish a comprehensive public plan option, and urging them to reject proposals to tax employer-provided benefits. Here's a copy of a letter I wrote.

Dear (your congressman's or senator's name),

As Congress considers comprehensive healthcare reform, I am writing to urge you to put partisan politics aside and work diligently to craft a plan that will guarantee high-quality and affordable healthcare for all Americans.

Healthcare reform is a crucial ingredient in strengthening this country. Rising healthcare costs have placed a tremendous strain on families, businesses, state governments and the federal budget. By working together to enact fair reform, we can create a better healthcare system that truly serves all Americans, making us healthier both physically and economically.

Successful reform should establish a comprehensive public plan that guarantees a choice of high-quality, affordable coverage, whether through an individual, employer-based plan or a government-sponsored, public health insurance plan.

I am strongly opposed to any proposal to tax employer-provided health insurance, and I urge you to reject such a plan if it emerges. Individuals, for quite some time, have been struggling to keep up with the rising costs of healthcare. Taxing employer-provided plans would create a disparate impact through additional taxes on 160 million working Americans who currently get health benefits via their employers.

In addition, I urge you to look at systemic problems within government itself that promote rising costs in health care. While I'm sure there are many examples, one
specific example would be the policies at the Patent Office that allow research companies to patent human genes. Such a policy grants an exclusive monopoly to one specific research firm meaning that they are the only firm that can research and provide treatments associated with those patented genes. These monopolies can then charge whatever they wish as there is no competition. The human genone should never be patentable. Any reform package passed by congress should address not just this issue, but any other systemic issue that artificially causes unrealistic increases in healthcare costs we are forced to pay.

Lastly, I would ask that whatever health care reform you choose to impose upon the American Public, that you similarly impose those same rules and policies upon on yourselves ... as you too, are a member of the American Public. You are no better than any of us.

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