Peterson statement on health care bill

Nov 7, 2009 Issues: Health

“We need health care reform and we need to control and reduce health care costs – I know it and most Minnesotans know it.  We also need everyone – Democrats and Republicans – to work together to make coverage more affordable for individuals and families, and to bring current and future costs under control.

“I believe we can do these things, but so far, both parties have put politics ahead of bipartisanship. As a result, Congress is struggling to deliver the affordable improvements to our current system that will improve and strengthen health care in Minnesota and continue our reputation for high quality, affordable care.

“In my view, the bill that passed the House of Representatives on Saturday fell well short of those objectives and so I voted against it.  Don’t get me wrong – I think the bill was trying to tackle the right problems and generally was going in the right direction, so I’m hopeful that as the process goes forward and the Senate does its work we will soon see a bill that Democrats and Republicans will be willing to vote for.  But we’re not there yet.

“Although the bill was full of good intentions, our current system is fiscally unsustainable and this bill won’t change that.  Medicare’s current unfunded liabilities are some $37 trillion, and Medicaid is close behind at around $35 trillion.  This is money we don’t have, money we’ll have to borrow from foreign countries or raise here at home through tax increases.  We have to tackle this problem and fix the underlying structural problems in both Medicare and Medicaid.

“The House bill also commits the government to provide billions in subsidies to help people buy insurance in the marketplace.  Subsidies only shift the cost of care from individuals to government and doing this leaves us promising to spend more money that we don’t have.  Adding it all up, I don’t think our country can afford to add another trillion-plus dollar health care delivery plan.

“I also voted against the bill House Republicans offered because it was a flawed bill.  It did nothing to control costs and offered nothing to expand coverage.  In fact, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said that the Republican bill would create even larger numbers of uninsured Americans and that’s absolutely the wrong direction for us to be going in.  We need to expand coverage, get more people insured and reduce costs.

“But with all that said it was important to have the process go forward.  There are a number of reforms we can and should enact, reforms that would attract bipartisan support, and I’m hopeful that these things will be included at the next stage.

“I’m in favor of expanding coverage, creating market-based insurance exchanges, establishing portability of coverage, and eliminating the ability of insurance companies to exclude pre-existing conditions from coverage.  I think we should have tort reform, allow people to buy coverage across state lines, and restructure our payment systems so that we reward care that delivers high quality at lower costs instead of simply spending money for treatments that do little for the patient.

“Eventually the final bill has to look different than what was considered today because we have to get costs under control.  As I said at the beginning, we need health care reform and most Minnesotans know it.  We’re going in the right direction, and although the current bill wasn’t something I could vote for, I think that if we continue to work together and listen to one another we can write and pass something that will do all of what we need to do – and that will be something I’ll vote for.  Getting this right is critical to our future and to our country’s fiscal future.  If we let partisan politics rule the day we will all lose.”