For months, the U.S. Congress, the news media, and American households have been preoccupied by health care reform. Some of the strongest indicators that the health care debate is cutting to the quick of American life are the tens of thousands of letters I have received from Texans of all ages – including kids – on this vital issue. It’s because – perhaps to a greater extent than any other policy we face today – health care is deeply personal and consequential. When we view reform through the eyes of the individual Americans it will impact, it’s easy to keep our guiding priorities in sight: health care must be accessible and it must be affordable.
In the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congressional Leadership’s attempt to implement a massive government takeover of our health care system and, with it one-sixth of the American economy, the priorities of cost and access have been lost. And the Democrats are rushing their legislation forward before Americans can discover what’s really in it or how it will be funded.
A close look at the Democratic proposal shows that it will be funded, in large part, through massive cuts to Medicare. Millions of American seniors rely on this program, and it is already on the brink of insolvency. In particular, these cuts could eliminate Medicare Advantage, a program that has been a bright spot in an otherwise flawed government initiative. It has been popular with seniors because it gives them the choices and flexibility of private insurance and helps cover the gaps in their standard Medicare coverage. In Texas, nearly 500,000 seniors are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans – more than in any other state. The cuts to the program threaten the viability of those plans, and Medicare Advantage patients could lose access to the doctors they trust and see their health care options disappear. So claims by supporters of government-run insurance that people can keep the coverage they have if they like it are simply disingenuous.
Further, this bill calls for a massive expansion of Medicaid. In Texas, this expansion will cost our state and taxpayers billions more in program costs. Raising the burden of Medicaid will ultimately jeopardize states’ ability to pay physicians for the services they render to low-income patients. And without assurances they’ll be adequately compensated, physicians could stop seeing Medicaid patients altogether. As it is now, only 40 percent of doctors take Medicaid patients. Under the Democrats’ proposal, this number will only get lower and our nation’s poorest, sickest, and oldest patients will struggle to find doctors to treat them. The expansion will also impact hospitals, which will be placed in the position of treating even more Medicaid patients despite consistent shortfalls in reimbursement rates. These costs will ultimately be passed along to all Texas patients through higher insurance premiums and property taxes.
The details only get more grim. Not only will this approach undermine access to quality care for our most vulnerable citizens, but it will drive up health care costs for Americans who do have health insurance.
Today, Texans with health insurance pay an average of nearly $5,000 in premiums each year. That’s too high. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Democrats’ health care proposal will only add to that burden and drive up Americans’ insurance premiums. Additional private analyses of the proposal’s impact found that the legislation could raise an individual’s insurance costs by $1,500 each year, and the average family could see its premiums increase by $4,000 annually.
The swelling costs don’t stop with rising premiums. American families and businesses will also be hit with steep tax hikes under the proposal. An excise tax on insurance plans would impact roughly one in 10 families. And those who don’t have insurance will be subject to penalty payments. It defies common sense to impose financial penalties for not purchasing a commodity that is unaffordable, especially when the expectation of the cost will continue to increase! A similarly illogical fine will be levied on employers who are unable to provide insurance for their workers.
When fully implemented, the bill will cost $1.8 trillion over the next ten years. It will be paid for by seniors and American families and businesses through their taxes and premiums. And it will cost us all in the quality and accessibility of care.
Clearly, the devil is in the details with the Democrats’ health care proposal. And Americans have not been given the opportunity to analyze those details because they are being negotiated behind closed doors. The actual bill passed out of the Senate Committee has not even been put into final language. In order to adopt the sensible health care reform we all agree is necessary, we need to regain the trust of the American people. The Administration and Congress must come together in a transparent process. We should start over and pursue a commonsense, bipartisan plan that lowers, rather than increases, costs and improves all Americans’ access to quality care.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas.