March 10, 2003

Health Care that Works for All Americans: Covering the Uninsured and More, Senators Ron Wyden & Orrin Hatch

Across America, people will talk this week about securing health care coverage for the 41 million folks who go to bed every night with little or no access to health care.Senator Hatch and I are here to build on this grassroots involvement - and encourage more of the same, by introducing bipartisan legislation with a new approach to creating a health care system that works for everybody. Like the advocates making the case to expand coverage for the uninsured, Senator Hatch and I believe that public involvement, followed by political accountability, is the key to creating a health care system that works for all. For six decades Washington has treated the road to health care reform like a one-way street. Health plans have been conceived by politicians in the nation's capital and handed down to the American people by way of special interest groups who ripped them into tiny, useless pieces in the process. Senator Hatch and I have a bipartisan plan to change that process forever.Under our Health Care that Works for All Americans legislation, Congress will have to vote on the people's priorities - from expanding health coverage for the uninsured, to cost containment, to reducing waste and inefficiency. Understand what a revolution this would be in the annals of health care reform! In 1993 and 1994, the last major health care reform debate, there wasn't one substantive vote on the floor of either the House or the Senate to bring about major health reform. Our legislation will change that by guaranteeing that all reform proposals that spring from public participation, from the kind of involvement we're seeing this week, will be voted on by the people's representatives. For decades, the failed concept of top-down health reform has produced the same results: the United States is the only Western industrialized nation that hasn't figured out a way to cover everybody. This week, we'll hear from 41 million Americans without health coverage, but millions more are just one paycheck or one pink slip away from losing coverage. Millions more are underinsured. They have some insurance coverage, they may not be likely to lose it today, but it just doesn't cover enough, or it won't pay for good care. Ours is the only bipartisan Congressional proposal to stop the hemorrhaging of lives and dollars from a health system that now spends so much money that every American could be sent a check for more than $4,000 to purchase coverage for a year. Countless small businesses are getting 25 percent hikes in their health insurance premiums year after year. Health care providers are cutting services. Expanding the use of technological innovations like electronic medical records is being slow-walked. All these issues on on the table for the people. Their legislation can force changes in each of these areas. The bill first allows Americans to state what kind of health care services they want, and who should pay. A Citizens' Health Care Working Group is established to help the people get involved and make informed choices through community meetings and online. Let me be clear: this working group won't be another blue ribbon commission with a bunch of Congresspeople sitting around calling the shots. Instead, it's a conduit for the people's preferences. This is a new approach that will let citizens drive the health reform debate and then force Congress to follow up - by writing legislation that reflects the people's will.It's time to recognize that health care is like an ecosystem. Covering the uninsured is a critically important need, but Congress has to go further and make it part of a plan that fixes the whole system. So Senator Hatch and I have decided during this important week to stress that our plan can meet the critical needs of the uninsured, and spark an unprecedented drive toward the fundamental changes that are needed for our health system as a whole.