I am here to visit about the topic of health care. I'll be spending time in Kansas this week, and there probably will be no topic of conversation that will be greater than people's concerns about healthcare. I will tell you, as I indicated to many of my colleagues, this is like no other issue that I’ve ever dealt with as an elected official in how personal the consequences are of the decisions we make here.
While I certainly admit there’s plenty of politics and partisanship and too much back and forth that revolves around this concern about healthcare, what I do know is that the people who visit with me are in so many instances my friends, neighbors, our kids' teachers. They are people I go to church with, and in many instances as they have a conversation with me about what we’re going to do in regard to health care, tears begin to stream down their cheeks as they worry about themselves, but more importantly, as they worry about their family members, sons, daughters, husbands, wives and parents. This is a very personal issue and the concern that Kansans have about this and what we might do is sincere and real.
I also know the Affordable Care Act, the law that’s in existence today, is failing many Americans as well. And, in fact, just this week, yesterday, we learned that the company Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City is exiting the market and will no longer provide a product in the Kansas City area of our state, which means that in most instances individuals will no longer have an option in regard to the Affordable Care Act.
So what we have in place doesn’t work. I also know what has come from the House isn’t the solution to this problem either. The work that we have to do, you and I, Madam President, and our colleagues, is serious and will have real and personal consequences to every American and we must take our responsibilities seriously.
I've indicated to my colleagues that neither the Affordable Care Act, which I voted against, nor what the House has passed, is anything I would vote for. I really wish we were doing something different than either one of those things.
As I thought about my remarks today, I was about to say I suppose I come too late to get my ideas adopted by Congress, but really I came to this issue early. And I think it was 2004, maybe 2006, in which at least in my own mind I penned on paper and worked on drafting legislation, what I called a 'ten-point plan' to address the affordability and availability of healthcare… My ideas, which predate President Obama, were nothing like the Affordable Care Act and they really were nothing like the conversation that we're having today.
I wish we would be addressing the underlying reasons that healthcare costs so much rather than focusing so much attention on the issue of health insurance and its premiums. If we can drive the things out of healthcare that unnecessarily raise the price, the cost of access to healthcare, we could make a tremendous difference in healthcare premiums and the affordability of healthcare for all Americans. Not just trying to figure out what kind of plan we can develop, what kind of insurance program, what kind of subsidy or tax credit we can provide. But we would be treating the underlying problem, not just the symptoms.
To give a little understanding of what I'm talking about, the things that we ought to consider, in my view, is to allow more competition in the market, more free enterprise opportunities, allowing people to purchase insurance from coast to coast, expanding the support for community health centers, places that people -- these centers are already in existence. They need to be more available in more places. We're a very rural state and it is hard it to find those community health centers, but they provide healthcare services for people who have no ability to pay and no insurance.
We ought to be more supportive of community health centers, not less, as providing particularly primary care for people in difficult circumstances.
We also need to give small businesses and organizations the ability to organize and create larger pools so they can negotiate for better premiums.
We need to utilize health savings accounts.
We need to support medical research. If we can find the cure for cancer, the delay of the onset of Alzheimer's, we can save billions of dollars in our healthcare system as well as saving lives and improving the quality of life of people who suffer from the diseases that are so prevalent.
We need to address the issue of prescription drug costs. How do we make certain that no drug company takes advantage, cornering the market? How do we make certain they don’t utilize our current laws to extend the life of their patent, eliminating the chance for competition to come into play and the introduction of generic medicine that can save consumers, patients, lots of money?
We need to promote preventive healthcare: wellness, fitness, diet, nutrition are the things that probably give us the biggest bang for our buck and don't need to be a government program, but people need to work at living healthier lives and prevent diseases from occurring in the first place.
We need additional physicians and other health care providers, nurses and others, and we have not put the attention into developing programs to educate and train the next generation of medical providers.
We need to make sure that Medicare and Medicaid actually pay for the cost of the services that they promise to pay for on behalf of citizens at low income as well as citizens who are seniors instead of having the cost shifting that occurs as a result of the system that we have today in which Medicare doesn’t pay for, Medicaid doesn’t pay sufficient amounts of money to actually pay for the services that a patient receives under either one of those programs.
Those are things that I think that would be beneficial to every American and it wouldn't be spending our time to figure out how to modify the insurance system, how we figure out about subsidies or tax credits for people within the system. Again, I don't come late to this issue, but it doesn't seem to be the direction we are going…
One thing I wanted to particularly highlight is the value of medical research. I'm proud that this Congress passed an appropriations bill that includes an additional $2 billion for use in medical research for the National Institute of Health. And perhaps something that we can even be additionally proud of is that we did that without spending more money. We simply – I shouldn't say simply, nothing's easy about it, and I'm on the Appropriations Subcommittee that is responsible for the funding of NIH – we reallocated money being spent somewhere else in support of medical research.
If we find the cure for cancer, if we reduce the onset and the time in which people suffer from Alzheimer's, if we can find a cure for diabetes and other diseases, the lifesaving changes that are being made through that medical research and the costs that accrue to our healthcare delivery system are hugely important.
I want to particularly commend the director of the National Institute of Health for working so closely with members of Congress and the American people in support of medical research.
Dr. Francis Collins is a national resource. I am not a scientist, I don’t understand all the concepts that are spoken about when we talk about medical research. I do not do medical research. I'm a longshot from that. One thing that Dr. Collins, the director of the National Institute of Health, has been able to do is to explain to me and my colleagues and to others across the country the value of medical research without getting me lost in the details of the actual science. Someone who can talk to a layperson about medical research and science in a way that captures me – captures my attention, but I don't get lost in the medical, or technical or scientific words and jargon that scientists use in having the conversations.
Dr. Collins has been so bipartisan in his approach. I smiled when I read the story. He indicated to me that when he was being chosen to be the director of the National Institute of Health, he called his mother back home and indicated to her, ‘mom, I'm going to become the director of the National Institute of Health,’ and she said, ‘but we're Republicans. I don't want you working for government.’ Here is a man who has used his time, not working for government, perhaps working in government, but working for the American people and really for worldwide solutions to problems that we all face in our families.
There is no one in America or this chamber whose family has not been affected by the diseases I described and the other long list of afflictions that we have as human beings – that NIH is not working to make a difference in their lives. We need to continue that support for the National Institute of Health as we pursue appropriations bills into the future and our ability to do that together is important and a source of satisfaction that can come.
I've indicated from time to time that it’s sometimes difficult to find the things in the jobs this we have as United States Senators in which you get the sense of accomplishment. There's a lot of challenges here in getting things done, but the idea that we've come together to support medical research and find lifesaving cures, that gives us something to take great satisfaction in and gives us hope that what we've been able to accomplish in this regard as Republicans and Democrats, but really as Americans, can be a role model as we try to find solutions to other problems. I would hope that would be the case as we try to find solutions in regard to how do we care for the American people when it comes to their affordability and availability of healthcare.
You and I, madam president, come from states that are very rural. In any kind of healthcare solution that we find, we need to make certain that we’re increasing the chances that hospital doors remain open in rural communities across our states. We need to make certain that there are more physicians, not less, there are more healthcare providers. That nursing homes and home healthcare services are more available, and that pharmacy remains on Main Street. In fact in the cases of our states, you could find ways, I suppose, that reduce the cost of healthcare only to discover that you no longer have a provider, no longer have a hospital, or a physician, or a pharmacy in your hometown and so sometimes when you talk about the affordability you must quickly couple that with availability, whatever its price is. If it's not in your community, if it’s not in your county, if it’s not in your region of the state, it doesn't necessarily matter what it costs.
Our work is serious and I look forward to working with you and my colleagues as we try to find solutions to make certain that healthcare is something that every American has access to.