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Murkowski Comments on Senate Finance Committee Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Oct. 16 made the following comment regarding the health care proposal approved this week by the Senate Finance Committee:

"There is no question that our nation's health care system must be reformed.  Health care costs are rising and our Medicare patients are not able to access primary care providers. I am disappointed with the health care legislation approved by the Senate Finance Committee this week as it doesn't address the concerns of everyday Americans and if enacted, would raise taxes, increase health care premiums and reduce Medicare benefits. This is a far cry from health care reform.

"The preliminary cost estimate of this bill over 10 years is $829 billion. That price tag would require a massive expansion of Medicaid, the joint federal-state program for the poor, that would expand coverage to anyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which for a family of four in Alaska is $36,668. Gov. Parnell as well as many other Republican and Democrat Governors have called the Medicaid expansion an "unfunded mandate." While the bill proposes significant increases in federal Medicaid reimbursements to cover increased costs to states, the full cost of expansion is not assumed by the federal government, and there is no guarantee that the higher federal reimbursements to the states would be maintained.  In fact, a Lewin group study, independently verified by Alaska Medicaid, says that it would cost states $438 million over five years to implement all Medicaid provisions under the Baucus proposal.

"Also under the bill, the restrictions that would enable more Americans to get health insurance won't go into effect until 2013. The bill would impose new restrictions on health insurers' business practices, preventing them from denying people coverage for pre-existing medical conditions or dropping customers once they fall ill. I fully support these provisions to enable those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease or cancer to get health insurance without a waiting period - but this bill pushes that off for another four years.

"Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office estimated price tag relies on unrealistic savings from Medicare. The bill would be paid for largely by reducing the growth of spending in Medicare and cutting half a trillion dollars from the health entitlement for the elderly and disabled. Editorials this past weekend in the Washington Post, Salt Lake Tribune and Colorado Springs Gazette discussed the unlikelihood that Congress would actually follow through and cut $500 billion in Medicare services when every year Congress has stepped in to prevent automatic cuts to health providers caring for Medicare patients. 

"The bill also would raise revenue through new taxes on high-end health plans. For example, the nearly three million Federal employees nationwide and the 17,000 Alaskans who are enrolled in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Individual plan will be hit with almost $1,000 in taxes within three years of implementation.

"And two studies, one commissioned by the actuarial firm of Oliver Wyman and the other by one of the world's largest accounting firms, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, conclude that premiums on those purchasing in the individual and small group markets would increase anywhere from $1,100-$3,300 for individual and families. This represents a 50 percent increase in health care premiums. 

"Republicans and Democrats agree that health care costs must come down in order to be sustainable. This is one of the main reasons why we must reform our health insurance system. I believe that real reform of health care should start with changing the private health care system so that those individuals with pre-existing conditions and adverse health conditions can be immediately eligible for health care coverage without facing a lengthy waiting period before their health insurance covers their care. Also, annual and lifetime caps on the amount of benefits that will be paid by your health benefits should also be eliminated, easing the burden of health care costs on the sickest patients. These reforms should start immediately, but unfortunately this bill delays the process for another four years. Additionally, I believe that doing away with junk lawsuit abuse is another significant issue that must be addressed. We won't be able to reduce health care spending unless our doctors are confident in ordering only necessary treatments rather than over subscribing diagnostic tests and x-rays out of fear of being sued. Estimates show more than $100 billion could be saved every year with enactment of real medical malpractice reform. Another way to reduce the unsustainable growth of health care costs is to allow individuals in certain professions such as the fishing industry, accountants, and other small business professionals, to band together and purchase health insurance. 

"I support meaningful reform of our health care but we must achieve this in a fiscally responsible way that doesn't spend more, will contain costs and will improve access to medical care for patients."

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