Thank you for contacting me about health care reform. I appreciate hearing your suggestions on this critical issue and sincerely regret the delayed response. Every American deserves access to quality health care. Unfortunately, the cost of health care in America is skyrocketing at more than twice the rate of general inflation and millions of Americans can no longer afford adequate coverage. More than 47 million Americans live without any health insurance and millions more are underinsured. Uninsured adults are four times as likely as the insured to delay or forego needed care, and uninsured children are six times as likely to do so. Forcing Americans to go without basic health care puts millions of people at risk and adds inefficiency and undue strain to emergency rooms and other elements of our health care system. These factors have contributed to out of control inflation in our health care industry, making quality care increasingly unaffordable for more and more Americans. As you may know, I serve on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care reform in the U.S. Senate. I am working with my colleagues on the committee to expand coverage to the uninsured, while improving the care available to those that already have coverage today. The proposals I am considering would let people choose between keeping the coverage they have now or transitioning to new coverage provided through a health insurance exchange. The health insurance exchange would be an insurance marketplace designed to foster competition between private plans and allow for the inclusion of important consumer protections, such as guaranteeing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Assistance would be provided to lower-income Americans, making coverage affordable for all. I am also working closely with my colleagues on the Finance Committee to develop a public option that will benefit Washington State residents. I believe an effective public option could help improve access to high quality care, while bringing down costs through expanded choice and competition in the health care industry. However, this will only be achieved if we take full advantage of our opportunity to overhaul America’s health care system, instead of just expanding flaws that exist in the current Medicare program. Medicare is in many ways an extremely successful program for America’s seniors, but it also needs some serious improvements. For example, many Washington State residents currently struggle to find doctors that will accept new Medicare patients. This problem exists largely because Washington gets penalized under the Medicare reimbursement structure, which adjusts payments on a regional basis in a way that penalizes efficient health care delivery. Washington State is a national leader in producing high-quality health outcomes at a low cost. Unfortunately, this means our Medicare providers get reimbursed at a rate that is almost 30 percent less than providers get in high-cost states like New Jersey. Beneficiaries in these high-cost states are not producing better health outcomes; they are just pocketing more of our money. We need to make sure we fix these problems in a public option, or Washington residents will just continue to subsidize expensive, lower-quality care in other parts of the country. I am helping to address this and other underlying flaws in our current health care system through the MEDIC Act (S. 1262), which I introduced on June 15, 2009. This bill would shift the way Medicare pays physicians to better reward the efficient, high-quality health care many Washington State physicians provide. This would help to fix Washington State’s low Medicare reimbursement rates, expanding access to more Medicare beneficiaries throughout Washington. I also introduced the Preserving Patient Access to Primary Care Act (S. 1174) on June 3, 2009 to improve access to primary care in America. Washington State, and the nation as a whole, already face a dire shortage of primary care providers. Making health care accessible to all Americans will be impossible without the workforce needed to care for them. This bill would help to expand access to primary care, especially in underserved areas, by creating incentives, such as scholarship and loan forgiveness programs, for medical students who choose to enter primary care. It would also improve the Medicare payment system to incentivize well-coordinated, preventative primary care services. Additionally, I introduced two bills on June 11, 2009 to improve long-term care for the elderly and people with disabilities. Both bills seek empower people to choose home and community based long-term care services instead of forcing them to receive higher cost nursing home care that may not meet their individual needs. One bill, called the Home and Community Balanced Incentives Act (S. 1256), does this by incentivizing states to develop successful home and community based long-term care programs under Medicaid. One-third of the total national Medicaid budget currently goes to cover long-term care. When home and community based care can be provided at just one-third of what a nursing home costs, not making home and community based care more available to Medicaid beneficiaries makes no sense. The second bill, called Project 2020 (S. 1257), would help give people the support they need to stay healthy in home and community settings before they ever end up on Medicaid. Currently, the average person lasts just six months in long-term care before going on Medicaid. By offering home and community based long-term care to those most in danger of ending up in Medicaid, we can provide better, more personalized coverage, while saving billions of dollars in state and federal funding. These reforms are just a few of the examples of the new focus we need to have in health care. I am committed to finding ways to provide better care at a lower cost, which will help us pay for the other critical reforms America can no longer afford to postpone. Please be assured that I will keep your comments in mind as I work to provide every American with quality health care they can afford. Thank you so much for contacting me to share your thoughts on this matter. Finally, I would like to keep you informed of what is happening in D.C. Every Monday, I provide a brief outline about my work in the Senate and issues of importance to Washington State. If you are interested in getting this update, please visit my website at http://cantwell.senate.gov. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of further assistance.
United States Senator
I believe I made it perfectly clear that this Health Care debacle is a bad idea and bad for America and that I urged her to not support it in any way shape or form. Nice to know she listened. If you are one of her constituents and has not written her about this, you need to ASAP. I cannot do this alone folks…….