Congressman Lipinski's Leadership on Health Care Reform (September 30, 2009)

One of the challenges to reining in health care costs is the absence of transparency in prices charged for medical care. When California implemented a price disclosure law, it found that one hospital charged $120 for a chest x-ray while another charged more than $1,500. Congressman Lipinski's personal experience with this issue when he was hospitalized with a broken hip led him to introduce his first bill, the Hospital Price Disclosure Act of 2005. He continues to push this legislation and this year has introduced the Hospital Price Transparency and Disclosure Act of 2009 (H.R. 2566). This bill would require hospitals to reveal the prices charged for the most commonly delivered medical services and pharmaceutical drugs, putting pressure on hospitals to lower their prices and reducing Americans' medical costs.

Similarly, Congressman Lipinski helped introduce the Informed Consumer Choices in Health Care Act of 2009 (H.R. 2427). Under this legislation, health insurance providers would be required to provide consumers with complete disclosure of what is-and is not-covered in their health care plans, in plain language. This will enable Americans to make fully informed choices when purchasing health insurance.

Congressman Lipinski has also been a strong proponent of reducing the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceutical drugs. In 2007, Lipinski cosponsored and helped pass in the House the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act, which would require the government to negotiate with drug manufacturers to achieve lower prices through bulk purchasing. Congressman Lipinski helped introduce this legislation again this year (H.R. 684) and will continue to fight to pass it. He also has introduced a bill, H.R. 2917, to take away the tax break that pharmaceutical companies currently enjoy for the expensing of advertising, marketing, and promotional costs. Tax dollars should not be used to help companies promote pharmaceuticals.

An estimated 9 million children in the U.S. lack health insurance, 88 percent of whom come from working families. Even simple health problems that are permitted to persist without adequate treatment at an early age can lead to chronic and debilitating conditions, or even threaten the lives of young children. For that reason, Congressman Lipinski strongly supported this year's successful effort to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program to cover an additional 4 million children. Lipinski repeatedly voted to approve this expansion - including voting to override President Bush's veto in 2008.

While all of these actions are important, Congressman Lipinski knows that comprehensive health care reform is needed. As an attempt to start the debate on comprehensive reform, last year Lipinski helped introduce the Healthy Americans Act (H.R. 6444), which would begin to reform the U.S. health care system by reducing costs, ensuring universal coverage, and lessening the burden on the American taxpayer. This legislation would improve health care coverage by providing tax incentives to enable individuals to purchase insurance as part of a large pool. This legislation also places an emphasis on prevention and disease management, and eliminates discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. By treating these conditions early on, we can significantly reduce health care costs.

Moving Forward on Comprehensive Reform

There are many different proposals for comprehensive health care reform. They range from the national health care system model of Great Britain and the single-payer system of Canada, to policies that place every individual on their own, with tax breaks being the only government involvement. As President Obama's campaign commercials declared, the effective and responsible public policy lies somewhere in the middle.

Congressman Lipinski supports the concept of a public health insurance option, one that will enable competition and supplement choices for individuals and businesses. This new public option should comply with all the rules and standards that apply to private insurance. Lipinski also believes there must be improved standards for private health insurance coverage. Private health insurance reform will rein in costs, expand coverage and portability, promote preventative medical care and preserve coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. There must be benchmarks for health care quality and means by which individuals can effectively appeal decisions that may limit their medical options or coverage.

Congressman Lipinski recently signed on to the health care reform principles promoted by the Health Care for America Now campaign - a coalition of over 1,000 consumer protection, labor and other groups. The group's goal is "affordable, quality health care for everyone in America." The principles endorsed by HCAN include an inclusive and accessible health care system, choices between private and public health insurance plans, health care standards that include preventative services and treatment, cost reductions and controls, and strong oversight and watchdog functions to ensure an efficient health care system.

There are many details yet to be addressed, but as health care reform proceeds through the legislative process, Congressman Lipinski remains committed to supporting options that will reduce costs, expand coverage, increase transparency, and promote preventative care and early treatment options.