I hope you enjoy receiving these updates about my work on behalf of Wisconsin. It is an honor to represent you in the U.S. Senate. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at kohl.senate.gov or at 1-800-247-5645.
President Barack Obama recently paid a visit to our state to talk about the urgent need for comprehensive health care reform. He continued to make his case, and as your senator, I can tell you that President Obama is absolutely right. The time for health reform is now.
We have fallen far behind other nations that provide coverage to all their citizens and still deliver better quality care at lower cost. We desperately need to catch up before health care costs threaten to destroy us. America spends more on health care than any other country, yet in 2004 we ranked 26th in life expectancy and 32nd in infant mortality.
The high cost of health care is also affecting our economy and our ability to compete in the global marketplace. Studies have shown that slowing the growth of health spending and expanding coverage to the uninsured would create as many as 500,000 jobs a year and provide a net gain of $100 billion a year to our economy.
Our federal budget is not the only thing straining under health care’s skyrocketing costs. The cost of health care is threatening the ability of businesses, particularly small businesses, to stay afloat. Providing health care benefits to employees has become harder for business owners as the cost eats up more of their budget.
Families are feeling the pain of health care costs, perhaps the most. Over the past nine years, premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance have more than doubled, growing six times faster than wages. Many are finding they are just one bad illness away from financial ruin, with nearly two-thirds of all personal bankruptcies caused by medical expenses. It’s no wonder, with these exorbitant costs, that we have over 70 million Americans either without health insurance or without enough health insurance.
We must reduce the cost of health care and improve its quality now. While those two crucial goals seem to be in opposition, the fact is they are very much in line. Lately, there has been a lot of media attention on how it costs two to three times as much to fund a Medicare recipient in some American cities than it does in others. Those studying the health system have come to the conclusion that health care quality does not increase with higher spending.
In fact, researchers have shown health care costs in places like LaCrosse and Green Bay are much lower than the national average, yet quality is better than the national average. If we could reform health care in our country to be more efficient, as Wisconsin has done in many areas, we could save billions of dollars, we could help businesses remain competitive, and we could spare families from anguish and financial damage.
Plans are beginning to form on how to improve the health care system, and I believe reform must include some mandatory conditions. We need to move toward paying for value instead of volume. We must eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse from the system. We should expand prevention and wellness education to help nip potential health problems in the bud, rather than treating people once health problems have developed.
As we create a more efficient, higher quality health care system, we must expand coverage to all our citizens. And, again, contrary to conventional wisdom, it will save us money to do so. When the uninsured cannot afford to pay the cost for the health care they desperately need, these costs are shifted to those who can pay. Doctors and hospitals do this by charging insurers more for the services provided for patients who have health insurance, and the insurers pass on these shifted costs in the form of higher premiums for consumers and businesses that purchase health insurance, resulting in a “hidden tax” at a cost of roughly $1000 per family, per year. Expanding coverage also means helping small businesses and the self-employed find quality, affordable coverage, and ensuring that vulnerable Americans who have had health problems in the past are not denied coverage in the future.
While our goal is to reduce the growing costs of health care, we’re going to make sure that those who like their current health coverage can keep it. Others who are in need of better coverage will have more choices. Ideally, I think health reform should include some type of a public option. After all, millions of seniors are happy with their government-sponsored Medicare coverage. There are many proposals on the table, and I am confident that we will end up with one that won’t undermine current health providers, will not rely on government subsidies, and will garner bipartisan support. I believe we can reach consensus on this and all of the critical issues in health reform if we don’t get caught up in ideological labels and work together for the good of the country.
More efficiency hand-in-hand with higher quality; more coverage leading to lower costs—it can all seem like a pipe dream. But we know it’s not, because Wisconsin is providing a model for these very goals. President Obama came here because he knows that if every city in America boasted a system like LaCrosse’s or Green Bay’s, or the many other Wisconsin health systems that are doing it right, our country’s health care system would be much-improved.