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Skelton says health reform needed, but congressional proposal falls short
Skelton says health reform needed, but congressional proposal falls short

Congressman Ike Skelton
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 21, 2010) — The American people are privileged to have access to some of the best health care in the world. We have good doctors, good hospitals, and good private and public health insurance plans, like Medicare, that work well for many Americans.

However, as good as health care is in the United States, there are aspects of the system that most experts believe ought to be altered. I agree that improvements are necessary to contain costs, to make the private insurance companies work more fairly for the American people, and to improve access to health care for the uninsured. The question is how to best make these improvements and at what cost to the taxpayer.

Over the past year, I have met with rural doctors, hospital administrators, pharmacists, nurses, and the people of the Fourth District about health insurance reform. As a result of these meetings, I have come to see that building consensus around smaller, incremental improvements to the nation’s health system is the best way forward. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree that insurance companies too frequently stand between patients and their doctors, too frequently deny coverage for necessary medical procedures, and too frequently impose unreasonable premiums on those who need coverage most. Addressing these issues one at a time with bipartisan legislation, allowing for careful consideration and review by the public and within Congress, is the best approach to achieving sustainable change that has the support of the American people.

In November 2009, I voted against H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, because it did not represent the right balance for the rural Missourians I represent. I feared the legislation would cost far more than predicted and would have serious unintended consequences, especially for rural health care.

My concerns about the bill were affirmed when the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported, soon after the House passed H.R. 3962, that the bill’s proposed Medicare reimbursement formulas would result in annual pay cuts to hospitals. In its report, CMS concluded that hospitals might stop accepting Medicare patients or force Congress to spend additional money not budgeted in the bill to keep Medicare afloat. This report is not good news for health care in rural Missouri.

In reviewing the bill passed out of the Senate on Christmas Eve and the President’s proposal, I have not seen anything that eases my concerns over the direction of health insurance reform legislation. At the end of the day, each of these proposals still could have serious unintended consequences for those with private insurance and could negatively impact rural health care. Therefore, I will not vote for them. It is time for Congress to focus on the true challenges facing this nation: getting Americans back to work and protecting the United States from dangerous enemies abroad.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at www.house.gov/skelton.

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