In 2010, the American people were promised a number of things, but among those things was affordable, accessible, and quality healthcare. They were promised that, if they liked their healthcare plans, if they liked their insurance, they could keep those insurance policies. They were promised a system that could get more folks covered at lower costs.
Instead, unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act has failed us, and has failed to keep its promises. Canceled policies, elimination of certain plans, difficulties in identifying new plans, massive premium increases, sky-high deductibles, and limited options for doctors has really become the new standard for many American families.
I’ve completed at the end of last year another round of 105 town hall meetings in our state. There’s 105 counties in Kansas. And on occasion – it’s pretty rare – but on occasion, someone will say: “the Affordable Care Act was helpful to me and my family.” My response to that is: “I’m glad. But surely we can come up with a proposal, a plan that isn’t so damaging to so many other people for the benefits that you claim you’ve acquired under the Affordable Care Act. Surely we can come up with a plan that doesn’t increase premiums, increase deductibles, increase co-payments, eliminate plans, reduce choice of physician you see, reduce your ability to keep the health care plan that you liked.
Because I’m opposed to the Affordable Care Act does not mean I’m opposed to trying to make sure that Americans have better options and more affordable care.
I’ve also visited all 127 hospitals in our state. I’ve had conversations with the chief financial officers, the CEOs, the trustees, the doctors, the nurses and almost without exception the conversation is about how bad debt expenses increased the ability for their patients, the people who are admitted to the hospital, their ability to pay their bills is less, not more. And that is because they can’t afford the co-payments and deductibles.
Unfortunately, Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act has taken away the freedom to make health care decisions from Americans, from us as individuals, and given way to much authority to the federal government. Kansans continue to ask me to help them get back to their former health care plans, to find a better way to do this. A plan that’s more affordable, with better coverage.
Over the last six years, I have advocated for a number of changes to our healthcare plan to help American families. And even before President Obama was president, we were talking about what we ought to do. I had ideas of what we can do to improve the chances that people across Kansas and around the country would have a better opportunity to provide healthcare insurance for themselves and their family members.
I am proud of some of the successes we’ve had in recent time. I am a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a supporter of NIH funding – the National Institutes for Health. This is research that’s essential to saving and improving lives, growing our economy, and maintaining America’s role as a global leader. But, most importantly, it saves lives and improves healthcare, but in addition it saves money, the cost of healthcare. If we can find the cure and treatment for cancer or for diabetes, for Alzheimer’s. And so one of the ways we can reduce the cost of healthcare and make it more affordable is to make certain that we make the necessary investments in finding those cures and treatments.
Last year I supported – and this Senate and Congress passed – the 21st Century Cures Act. This takes us in additional directions in the way of finding those cures for life-altering diseases, and in the process helps us save our family’s dollars.
We have also worked hard to try to maintain the funding – to maintain the funding, in fact – for the federal programs and agencies that work with universities and medical schools to train and recruit medical professionals who then go on to serve particularly in medically underserved areas. Very typical of your state and mine, Madam President, in which we are experiencing the constant shortage of the necessary professionals providing the necessary healthcare.
While this is progress, the things that I’ve mentioned, with a new Congress, a new year and new administration, we now have a tremendous opportunity to provide real, substantive reform to our healthcare system.
I mentioned the conversations that I’ve had in town hall meetings, in addition to that – in addition to the healthcare side of the Affordable Care Act and the problems it has created there for affordable and accessible healthcare – we’ve also had the challenges on the economic side, the job-creation side that the Affordable Care Act has unfortunately caused. The conversation about whether or not to expand a business, whether or not to exceed the 50 employee threshold: those aspects of the Affordable Care Act are very damaging and need to be addressed as well.
As we as a Senate, we as a Congress, we as a country look for a replacement strategy – something different, significantly different than the Affordable Care Act – we ought to focus on the practical reforms that embrace increased flexibility and allow American men and women to decide what’s right for them and their individual and family health care needs.
As we take this matter up in Congress, I’d like to again put forward some specific ideas I’ve offered over the years as a blueprint for reform that we should try to put in place.
First, we should maintain pre-existing condition protections to those with continuous coverage. Individuals with debilitating diseases and chronic conditions who have purchased healthcare should be reassured that their coverage will not be stripped in any future healthcare changes to our system.
Second, we can increase coverage by enabling Americans to shop for plans from coast to coast no matter what state they live in. This will lower the premiums by spurring greater competition in the insurance market.
Third, we should extend tax savings to those who purchase healthcare coverage, regardless of their employment. To assist low-income Americans, we can offer tax credits to help them obtain private insurance of their choice. We also can expand access to care by supporting community health centers and other access points to primary care.
Number four, instead of limiting the choice of plans, let’s give small businesses and organizations the ability to pool together in order to offer health insurance at lower premiums – similar to corporations and labor unions. We also need to make it possible for health insurance to travel with workers when they move from one job to another job throughout their careers.
Fifth, we ought to increase the incentives for individuals to save now for their future and for long-term care needs by empowering them to utilize health savings accounts and other incentive plans. Doing so enables individuals to take ownership in their health, and that’s important as well.
Sixth, we need not accept the idea that costs for currently-available medical treatments will inevitably rise. Instead, let’s continue to support those things that bring down the cost of healthcare by finding new cures and treatments, as I mentioned with the National Institutes of Health. Advancing life-saving medical research and spurring innovation can help us accomplish healthcare savings, reducing the financial burdens of those with diseases and their family members who care for them.
Seventh, we need to address shortages in our medical workforce by promoting education and programs at our universities, our medical schools that train physicians, and nurses and other health care professionals and to encourage them to practice in underserved areas through scholarship and loan repayment programs. Kansas is an example – as is your state, Madam President – where those rural areas, in addition to those core centers of our cities, lack so often the necessary health care providers.
Eighth, in order to curb the preventable costs that often are incurred through unnecessary emergency room visits and untreated symptoms of disease, we should provide coverage to low-income Americans, despite their limited financial means, in a financially sustainable way that ends up saving money in the long run.
For all of us the best reduction in healthcare costs is wellness, fitness, diet, nutrition. That also means early preventative care, it means early diagnosis and we need to make certain that Americans have access to that diagnosis and that early treatment. Ensuring access to quality care with a focus on preventative health is an effective way to limit high-cost health visits that place burdens on hospitals, physicians, our economy and our healthcare system as a whole.
Lastly, we can reform our medical liability system and reduce frivolous lawsuits that result in inflated premiums and the practice of ‘defensive medicine,’ where doctors order every possible test out of fear for potential lawsuits. Doing so can save tens of billions of dollars each year and make healthcare more affordable for more people.
The bureaucracy that goes with the providing of healthcare needs to be simplified. I have often looked behind the counter, when I see behind the desk, when I go see my family physician and wonder what all the people who are working there are doing, and so much of it is not about patient care, but navigating the system by which their healthcare bill, at least in part, gets paid. All the variety of insurance forms, I know this in my own life, the ability to understand that insurance document that arrives in the mail and sits on our kitchen table waiting for my wife or me to figure out: what does this mean. I’ve seen this with my own parents, when they were living, the amount of documents and paperwork and forms and checks for $13.19 that arrived on my dad’s mailbox and trying to figure out with my parents: what does that mean? Why am I getting this?
So much cost-saving and so much anxiety and angst could be eliminated if we had a system that’s much more uniform in its presentation. And simplifying the way in which our healthcare bill gets paid by our insurance provider, by Medicare, by Medicaid or out of our own pocket. I would like most Americans to be able to understand: what is the stuff that comes in the mail, and what does it mean to them.
So Madam President, as we move forward with trying to replace and improve access of Americans to affordable healthcare, I believe that there are reforms that will provide us with a good blueprint for how to start helping Kansans and all Americans across the country who have suffered under the deficiencies and the costs and the damage that comes from Obamacare.
I look forward to working with my colleagues – Republicans and Democrats – to find solutions to take advantage of this opportunity that we have. The American people, many American people, most American people are hurting under this law, and they’ve spoken clearly numerous times. And it’s for us time to bring to them the changes that improve their lives by improving their healthcare, by improving their health, and making sure that no American is worried about whether or not the necessary healthcare that they or their family member needs is outside their reach. Madam President, thank you very much.