Deliver Health Care Reform for Middle Class

Southwest News-Herald
By Congressman Dan Lipinski
As the debate over health care reform continues, my goals remain the same: to reform the health insurance industry to facilitate quality coverage for all Americans, and to rein in the surging cost of health care, without compromising the quality of care and without adding a dime to the deficit. I am not willing to vote for a bill just because it is labeled "health care reform."

Perhaps it is because of my training as an engineer, my career as a teacher, or the education I received from the nuns at St. Sym's, but I believe I have a duty to understand legislation and its impact before I decide whether to support it. This does not always make me popular among those who expect me to be a rubber stamp or to vote for something simply because it is well-intentioned.

Since I was first elected to Congress, I have discovered it is remarkably difficult to find objective analysis of legislation. I was reminded of this when the health insurance lobby recently employed dubious assumptions to claim that premiums would soar under one of the health care reform bills.

By now, everyone has learned to be highly skeptical of whatever the health insurers say. Maybe only the drug companies are considered less trustworthy. But just because the insurers' study was flawed doesn't mean there isn't reason to be concerned. The Congressional Budget Office, whose purpose is to analyze the impact of legislation, has been unable to clearly estimate what will happen to premiums under the reform bills.

What the CBO has told us about the original House bill, H.R. 3200, is that it will not reduce skyrocketing health care costs. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Office of the Actuary came to the same conclusion last week. There seems to be a consensus among most independent experts that there are ways that we can reform payments to doctors, hospitals, drug companies, and other providers that will save money and improve the quality of care for patients. However, most of these experts believe that H.R. 3200 does not do this.

There could be several explanations for this. But a number of recent stories about secret meetings at the White House involving the pharmaceutical lobby, the American Medical Association, and other lobbying groups raise concerns for me. In fact, the drug companies have said they will spend at least $150 million on advertisements promoting health care reform. One ad the industry sponsored features President Obama speaking directly into the camera promoting reform. It is widely reported that the drug companies cut a deal to ensure their hefty profits would not get hit hard by reform.

If the current legislation doesn't rein in the cost of health care, how will it lower ever-increasing health insurance premiums? Certainly some health insurance reforms could help. Last week, I joined a number of my colleagues in calling for the repeal of the health insurance industry's exemption from federal anti-trust laws. This would give the federal government the power to investigate and prosecute health insurers for anti-competitive practices that raise premiums. Although it could help, it will not solve the entire problem. As long as the underlying cost of medical care rises quickly, premiums will follow suit.

By the time you read this, a new version of the House health care reform bill may have been introduced. Democratic leaders in the House have told me that this new legislation will address my concerns that the original bill would not lower health care costs for most Third District residents and would add significantly to the federal deficit. I look forward to receiving this new bill and studying it. In order to win my support, it will have to provide real health care reform for the Third District and for all Americans.

Write me at 6245 S. Archer Ave., Chicago, IL 60638, or call me at (312) 886-0481 or (866) 822-5701.