Reform Health Care but Keep Eye on Costs (September 1, 2009)


There is no doubt that our health care system can and should be made better.

And any real health care reform must rein in surging costs.

The cost of health care is rising far faster than inflation or household incomes. Americans now spend almost twice as much on health care as they did a decade ago. Clearly, we cannot allow this trend to continue. The escalating cost of health care threatens to bankrupt individuals, families, businesses and our government.

I do not mean to suggest that other reforms are unimportant. For instance, I believe we must stop insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, and from dropping coverage for those who develop expensive illnesses.

And let me be clear: I want everyone to have affordable health insurance coverage.

But if the government pays to expand coverage without reducing costs, we will dig America even deeper into debt. One reason we now face a federal debt of $11.7 trillion - with another $9 trillion expected to be added in the next decade - is that skyrocketing medical costs are overwhelming existing government health care programs.

Since I was first elected in 2004, one of my top priorities has been to make health care more affordable. In fact, the first bill I ever introduced was the Hospital Price Transparency and Disclosure Act of 2005. This bipartisan bill, which I re-introduced this year, would require hospitals to reveal the prices they charge for common procedures and medications. When California implemented a similar law, it found that one hospital charged $120 for a chest X-ray, while another charged more than $1,500. Disclosing prices will enable people to shop for the best value and force hospitals to directly compete with one another, resulting in lower prices.

We also need to make other changes to the system to eliminate incentives that can increase costs. For instance, because they may earn money for each test and procedure they order, physicians can have an incentive to order unnecessary or overly expensive forms of treatment. This is not an attack on our hard-working, highly trained medical professionals. But common sense tells us we should reward doctors who offer great care at a reasonable price, not penalize them.

Taxpayers are even subsidizing activities that raise health care costs. I have introduced bills to abolish the tax breaks that pharmaceutical and health insurance companies receive for their advertising and marketing expenses. Misleading prescription drug ads needlessly increase demand for medications, and drug companies lavish gifts on doctors in an attempt to increase business. Meanwhile, health insurance advertising often consists of little more than feel-good sound bites and rosy scenarios. My legislation would end the more than $6.3 billion annual taxpayer subsidy for these activities, which raise costs.

I have also helped introduce the Informed Consumer Choices in Health Care Act, which would require health insurance companies to completely disclose what is - and is not - covered in their plans, in plain language. This bill would streamline and simplify health insurance forms, standardize key health insurance definitions, and provide greater assistance to consumers navigating difficult health coverage decisions.

As Congress continues to debate health care reform legislation, I remain focused on improving the bill and looking out for the interests of the hard-working people of the Third District. We need comprehensive reform that not only keeps insurance companies honest, but improves the entire system for patients. And we cannot afford to overlook the biggest problem with our health care system: ever-increasing costs.

As always, I invite your opinions and views. Write me at my main district office, 6245 S. Archer Ave., Chicago, IL 60638, or call me at (312) 886-0481 or (866) 822-5701. For more information, visit