Americans are looking to Congress and the White House to see whether lawmakers and the president will deliver on their promises to reform our healthcare system. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) – which is considering comprehensive healthcare reform legislation – I am committed to working with both my Republican and Democratic colleagues.
However, our success will be measured by whether we craft a healthcare bill that reduces costs while providing affordable, comprehensive medical coverage that ensures continuous access to nurses, doctors, medical health services, and does not interfere with the ability of individuals to continue choosing the healthcare provider of their choice.
As Democrats unveil reform proposals that amount to a massive government intervention, let’s recall the 1965 Medicare law that created the first federally run insurance program for the elderly and the disabled. At that time, we made many of the same promises to the American people that we are making today. We pledged that when you are no longer able to work, Medicare will take care of you. Similarly today, we are touting a government-run health plan, modeled on Medicare, that would provide all Americans with guaranteed access to care and choice in providers.
In Alaska, doctors are turning away Medicare patients who are being forced to pay out-of-pocket for medical care or forgo care altogether. In Anchorage – where half our state’s population resides – only 13 out of 75 general practice doctors are accepting Medicare patients. What doctors and patients in Alaska have quickly learned is that Medicare’s low reimbursement rates and bureaucratic hassles are hurting patient choice and access to care.
Simply put, Medicare is broken – and unfortunately, the problem only seems to get worse. In fact, Medicare is quickly going bankrupt and will actually be insolvent by 2017. Somewhat predictably, Congress is trying to dramatically expand the soon-to-be-bankrupt Medicare program without taking steps to fix or stabilize the underlying problems. I cannot support making a bad situation worse.
Unfortunately, the healthcare reform legislation being pushed in the Senate has not been “carefully crafted” and we still don’t know how this legislation will be paid for. Additional questions are also begging for answers. Should the government require all Americans to purchase health insurance or otherwise face monetary federal tax penalties? With the downturn in our economy, should we force employers to provide insurance for both full-time and part-time employees? This could result in employers lowering wages to pay for healthcare benefits and hiring contract employees instead of new employees to avoid the onerous burdens of healthcare costs. Will a new government-run insurance program, modeled on the Medicare model, put more Americans at risk of limiting access to their doctors like the Medicare program has in Alaska?
Finally – and particularly in light of the massive debt the federal government continues to amass – how much will this reform cost and can we afford the price tag? The United States is already facing a debt of $1.8 trillion for this year alone. We don’t buy a car or purchase a home before we know the price and whether or not we can afford it. Preliminary estimates project the cost of the pending healthcare reform plan well in excess of $1 trillion. Shouldn’t we explain to Americans how we intend to pay for this?
The stakes are simply too high to rush a bill through Congress, particularly if the result is to expand a severely broken Medicare program and drive the nation trillions of dollars further into debt. The “reform” currently being touted by the White House and congressional Democrats would deny millions of Americans their choice of a doctor and leave crucial healthcare decisions in the hands of government bureaucrats. This is not the kind of healthcare reform I would support, nor is it a plan the nation can afford.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, one of the key panels involved in drafting comprehensive healthcare reform legislation.
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