Ways & Means Committee Examines Health Reform

Mar 11, 2009 Issues: Economy and Jobs

Washington, D.C. —  The Ways and Means Committee today held a hearing highlighting the need for comprehensive health reform that provides affordable, quality coverage to all, while controlling the growing cost of health care.  Core concepts of health reform discussed included the need for shared responsibility with everybody participating, a strong role for both the public and private sectors, and the role of medical delivery system reforms in pushing quality improvements and garnering cost savings.   

The Committee solicited feedback from an expert panel of witnesses, including Dr. John Z. Ayanian, on behalf of the Institute of Medicine Committee on Health Insurance Status and Its Consequences, Dr. Karen Davis, President, The Commonwealth Fund and, Mr. John M. Pickering, Consulting Actuary, Milliman, Inc.

Committee Members discussed the following issues during today’s hearing:

Chairman Charles B. Rangel:
There is no question that our health care system has broken down,” said Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY).  “Today’s hearing marks this Committee’s first steps toward working with President Obama to tackle this serious, national problem.  With President Obama, we can lead the way to bring together people from all viewpoints -- patients, providers, insurers, governments, unions and management -- so that, at the end of the day, we can reform our broken system to make this country healthier economically and physically.”

Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander M. Levin:
The basic concern we are hearing from some is not whether there will be public support for a public plan option, but whether the support would eventually grow so strong that it would diminish private competition,” said Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander M. Levin (D-MI).  “Today’s hearing is a good starting point to developing a better understanding of how a public plan would interact with the private market.  The testimony today is that the emergence of a public plan option would provide competition for private insurers that would ultimately be healthy for the insurance industry and help control costs for beneficiaries.”

Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Jim McDermott:
“A health care plan must be carefully constructed so as not to allow the private insurance industry from skimming off the healthy people and leaving the seriously or chronically ill patients to the states,” said Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Jim McDermott (D-WA). “There needs to be a robust public option that includes principles to protect a patient’s rights, including the right to affordable health care coverage regardless of their medical situation.” 

Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis:
“We have a moral obligation to provide health care to every man, woman and child in America,” said Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis (D-GA).  “Too many of our citizens are one illness away from bankruptcy, unable to go to the doctor to seek the care they need because they are afraid to see the bill.   This should never happen in America.  Never.  Today’s hearing is an important first step toward providing health care to every American.  The studies and reports presented here today will make a lasting contribution to that effort, so that we can better understand the issues, find ways to control the costs in our health care system and expand coverage to all.”

Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee Chairman Richard E. Neal:
“Today’s hearing starts the national conversation on the challenge of providing affordable and accessible health care for every American. President Obama has called this effort a ‘moral imperative,” said Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA).  “Democrats in Congress are committed to enacting comprehensive health care reform, and the American people seek reduced costs and improved quality. I am confident we can achieve this goal because there is a growing consensus among Democrats and Republicans that action must be taken soon. We begin that debate today.”

Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John Tanner:
"Health care reform will remain an issue of high priority for the Congress and be at the top of the domestic agenda for 2009," said Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John Tanner (D-TN). "America's strength depends on the health of its citizens."

Congressman Xavier Becerra:
“Only 8 percent of the people that come in through the doors of the county hospitals in Los Angeles are covered by private, for-profit health insurance plans, in combination with Medicare, said Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA). What I see is that public health insurance plans and options are subsidizing private, for profit health insurance plans that are unwilling to offer plans to the poor or the sicker Americans. As a result the public hospitals and these public health insurance plans are taking the burden of the fact that the private for-profit health insurance plans aren’t yet willing to help these millions of Americans.   The private for-profit insurance plans are shifting costs onto the taxpayers who end up paying through these public hospitals or through these public health insurance plans like Medicare or Medicaid.”

Congressman Lloyd Doggett:
“To contain costs and ensure every American has coverage, a public plan option is essential to any meaningful health care reform, said Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).

Congressman Earl Pomeroy:
“Among the many challenges facing our health care system is the need to reform health care delivery,” said Congressman Earl Pomeroy (D-ND). “Research has shown that the United States spends substantially more than any other developed country, but achieves far lower health quality.  We can reverse this trend by incentivizing integrated health care systems, which produce lower costs with better outcomes of care.”

Congressman John B. Larson:
“Today’s hearing gave us the opportunity to address the pillars of any health care reform we consider – quality, cost and access,” said Congressman John B. Larson (D-CT). We must maintain a high quality of accessible care at reasonable cost to the average American.  At a time when millions of Americans are losing their jobs, I am particularly concerned with how we will provide a continuity of care when people find themselves unemployed. We must find a permanent solution to ensure that people who lose their jobs can maintain their insurance coverage at a rate they can afford, given their new financial situation.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer:
We can no longer continue with the status quo of healthcare in this country. Co-pays are high, coverage is low and service is worsening,” said Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). “Today’s hearing put this into context.   It is not an option to continue with the system that we’ve got.  I am hopeful that by continuing to look at the evidence and by looking at what’s happening to the current system, we can give Americans more choices for their healthcare in a way that improves the quality of healthcare while saving money.”

Congressman Ron Kind:
“Today’s hearing was a critical step in examining how to move forward on critical healthcare reforms, and I commend the Chairman for his work on this, said Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI).  I continue to believe that the only way we will be able to afford an expansion of health care coverage is to contain costs.  For too long we’ve had a reimbursement system focused on quantity instead of quality.  That has to change.  If we fail to address this problem, it’s going to be tough to reform our health care system at the end of the day.” 

Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr.
“America’s broken health care system can not be fixed without first strengthening our workforce of health professionals,” stated Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ).  America needs a health workforce that is adequate in size, second to none in quality, and prepared to meet the increasing demands of a changing population.  With the right steps, I am confident that America can rebuild a workforce focused on efficiency, outcomes, prevention, wellness and coordination.  I was encouraged by the witnesses at today’s hearing and look forward to working with the Committee to expand and improve the quality of health care in America.”

Congresswoman Shelley Berkley:
“Families in Nevada and across our nation just want to be able to see a doctor when they’re sick,” said Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV).  Today we have an opportunity to expand coverage nationwide, while at the same time slowing cost growth and improving the quality of care.  One step we can take is to provide incentives for Medicare providers to promote cost-saving prevention services, such as regular screenings.  We can also enlist this tool to control the overall growth of healthcare spending, which is eating away at paychecks, retirement savings and budgets.  And we must make sure that patients can continue to see the doctor of their choice by providing fair payments to physicians for the medical services they provide our seniors and other Americans covered under Medicare.”  

Congressman Joseph Crowley:
Urban pockets throughout New York and across the country don’t have enough primary care physicians to care for those in need, compromising health care for millions in New York and other cities, said Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY). As we move forward with the health reform debate, I am looking forward to working with my colleagues on the Committee on Ways and Means to address these shortages and recruit physicians into underserved areas.”

Congressman Chris Van Hollen:
There is no question that we need systemic reform, as the current and rapidly rising cost of health care in our country is unsustainable and health reform is central to addressing our economic crisis,” said Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).   “As Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag told Congress, the rate of growth in health care costs is the single most important factor influencing the federal government’s long-term fiscal challenge.  Inaction is no longer an option, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to address health reform in America.

Congressman Kendrick Meek:
"Florida is ground zero when it comes to healthcare reform," said Congressman Kendrick Meek (D-FL).  "With many doctors retiring, we will need to further incentivize more doctors to enter the profession and treat people living in rural communities where access to physician care is in short supply."

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz:
“To contain costs and expand access, we must engage patients in their care and realign our health care system to enhance primary care, to coordinate care for patients with chronic conditions, to provide for the meaningful use of health information technology, and to apply clinical best practices – all of which will reduce costs and save lives,” said Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (D-PA).  “Without these innovations, any effort at expanding healthcare coverage will be unsustainable. This work will be difficult and complex.  But we are compelled to act -- both to meet the needs of millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans, and to ensure the economic competitiveness of American businesses that are struggling with healthcare costs.”

Congressman Danny K. Davis:
“In my judgment, the best and most effective method of providing health care is a national health care system where everybody is in and nobody is out,” Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL).  “I believe that experience has demonstrated that community health centers are a critical and efficient method of delivering that care, especially in low income communities.”

Congressman Bob Etheridge:
In my state of North Carolina, the unemployment rate has more than doubled in the last year, to 9.7 percent,” said Congressman Bob Etheridge (D-NC).  “As individuals lose their jobs, they often lose their health insurance as well and are unable to afford COBRA or private health care.  We must ensure that any health care reform plan makes it easier for individuals who are unemployed to access coverage, while allowing those with insurance to keep their current plans.”

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez:
“One source of our current economic distress is our healthcare system: it is the most expensive in the world, but it's nowhere near the best performing, and it leaves out 47 million Americans,” said Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-CA). “Now is the time to address this dual economic and healthcare crisis.  By reforming our system to offer everyone a choice of affordable public and private plans, we can tackle costs while making the American workforce healthier.”

Congressman John Yarmuth:
There is fierce determination in Congress, the White House, and throughout the country to transform our health care system into one that provides adequate, affordable coverage to the tens of millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans,” said Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY).  “We cannot afford to wait any longer, and today’s hearing was a critical early step in achieving real reform.”