Over the weekend, the Senate commenced its historic debate on health reform legislation. So what are they talking about in what many call the world's greatest deliberative body?
Throughout this year's debate, rather than making reasoned policy arguments, reform opponents have parroted the latest partisan political talking points: death panels, abortion, "You Lie," immigration scaremongering, making any argument that came to mind in an attempt to slow reform's momentum. And in the past few weeks, Republican opponents and skeptical Democrats have parroted the insurance industry's claim that the bill will raise, not lower health care costs.
It's time these Senators put aside politicking and faced the facts about health care. This year, the cost of the average employer-provided family plan was upwards of $13,000. Health spending amounted to 16.2% of entire economy. If you think that's all right, know that the New America Foundation projects these costs will climb to $24,291 by 2016 -- if it's tough to afford coverage now, try paying for it when costs have doubled.
While it's perfectly reasonable to argue about the best way to reduce costs, it is the height of irresponsibility to do nothing about a national crisis and hope the sloganeering and inaction redounds to your political advantage.
The truth is that the Senate bill does more than many thought possible to lay the groundwork for real reductions in the trajectory of rising health care costs in the coming years. It includes:
• An Independent Medicare Commission with the authority to make the hard decisions on provider payment policy, needed to secure Medicare's future. This is a vast improvement over the present system where Congress must okay each adjustment in reimbursement rates amidst pressure from special interest lobbyists.
• Patient-Centered Outcomes Research determining which treatments work best, so that consumers and their providers can be armed with the latest science when making decisions about care.
• Unprecedented investments in primary care and prevention, keeping people out of the hospital and away from expensive ER visits. The bill includes payment increases for primary care providers to spend more face-to-face time with patients, funding for scholarships and loan-forgiveness for primary care providers, and a permanent, secure funding stream for prevention activities.
• A new Center for Innovation, housed in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), to rapidly develop and test innovative payment models that will transform our health care system to one that rewards quality not quantity.
• Administrative simplification provisions, insurance premium rate review, and new insurer efficiency standards (based on medical loss ratios) will ensure that customers' premiums go to care and not unnecessary administrative costs, excessive profits, or outrageous executive compensation packages.
An honest reading must acknowledge that these unprecedented steps do more to reduce the growth in health costs than any legislation in decades. For those still skeptical of the cost-saving heft of this bill, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated $127 billion in federal savings over the next ten years, and nearly $650 billion over the following ten years.
Is there more that could be done? Are there other cost-containment ideas? Sure. That's the debate the Senate should be having.
But amidst opponents' hyperbolic rhetoric and the inevitable filibuster, I'm just not sure America will ever get to see it.