Warner: Hypocrisy On Health Care Debate Has "Stunned Me"

Saturday, January 9, 2010

This video is from Virginia State Senator Chap Petersen's (D-Fairfax City) "Business Leaders Breakfast" yesterday morning in Tysons Corner. The following is a partial transcript of Mark Warner's comments on health care reform, in response to a question about where the effective messaging is coming (as opposed to simplistic slogans like "no car tax" or Rush Limbaugh's bloviating) on this issue.
You can't reduce it to a sound byte. You can't reduce it to...unfortunately, this is complicated stuff, and it is an area where people get terribly afraid...I've been in politics a long time, but the hypocrisy in this debate has been one that has even stunned me....We're the only industrial nation in the world that has not had both a political, religious and moral discussion about end-of-life issues. I'm dealing with this right now, my mom has advanced Alzheimers, and every family this touches on. The notion that we don't even have a health care system that really respects people's and families own decisions about this issue. In fact, when it was raised - and this was an issue that was mostly raised, the leaders on the issue around end of life have traditionally been Republican legislators - and when that issue was raised suddenly it was transformed into death panels.

Another example of hypocrisy on this. To the chagrin of some of you - and you probably didn't know this, but this is political hara kiri or whatever - I, unlike most Democrats, absolutely believe Chap that if you're going to have a health care debate, you ought to have tort reform and medical malpractice reform. It's not a silver bullet...but it ought to be part of the mix. So, when the amendment came up on the health care debate - and our friends on the other side, one of their top two talking points, you know if we could just get tort reform in or medical malpractice reform, health care solution's going to be solved - I was one of 12 Democrats who voted for it, 12 out of the 40 Republicans voted against it.

The Republicans and - to the chagrin of Lowell and some in the room - I was very unsure about the public option approach, because I didn't think a further expansion of a major new federal program - and I know, Teddy you're going to be mad at me - that might have an out year obligation that we might have to bail out at some point, I was concerned about that from a fiscal standpoint, that was taken out of the bill on the Senate side.

A lot of folks said at the same time, we've got to make sure this whole approach is deficit neutral and actually can start slowing our health care costs. Well, I don't like necessarily the Congressional Budget Office as the scorekeeper, but you can't kick out the referee at the end of the fourth quarter. Because that referee, by the way, does not give any of these bills any credit in terms of savings for where most savings that have occurred in the health care field in the last 10 years have taken place, which is in wellness and prevention. You go to any kind of major business, self employer, that has been able to actually drive down their health care costs, and most of those health care costs by making their work force healthier, by actually having their employees invested in things like physical education and lifestyle changes. We get no credit for that in the bill and there's more wellness and prevention in these bills than anything out there.

But even without that criteria, these bills have been viewed as cutting the deficit by $130 billion in the first 10 years and $700 billion to a trillion dollars in the second 10 years, and yet that is kind of dismissed as well, nobody believes it...


...We shouldn't argue that this is a total impossibility. Other countries around the world have been able to do health care at a cheaper price...on any other kind of valid outcome, has been able to do it with at least equal to ours or slightly better health care outcomes. Now, again, in our country, if you have a major catastrophic event take place to you and you have some rare, rare disease, there is no place in the world better than America. But if you have diabetes, if you have hypertension, if you have kind of chronic diseases, this is not the place you want to get those. And that's where 70% of our costs come from...

This is far from perfect. I would have loved to have been the guy in charge of writing this bill...but the status quo would be a financial disaster, a competitive disaster....If you are a small businessperson in this room and you provide health care for your employees, you are getting totally screwed (that is a Washington political term), because you're the only people in America that are paying retail. Now, some of these things like these health insurance exchanges, some of the tax subsidies to small businesses, if you are not a winner out of this bill then we have totally messed up...some of these things, again, we have not explained very well, it is extraordinarily complex. I would welcome somebody able to explain it better...

...I think the way this whole piece of legislation started, and I don't think it was anybody's fault, but it was kind of portrayed as, this was an effort around social justice, when I think this should have been viewed more as a thing that we have a current system that is financially killing this country, and unless we can fix that, a decade from now America's not gonna be able to compete and our deficits are going to explode, this is just a hole we can't dig our way out of. The whole debate should have been much more focused on how do we make sure we actually work on our federal deficit, that we make Medicare stable for the long term, and that we end up lowering our health care costs so American business can be more competitive, as opposed to making this simply a social justice argument. That's where it got off on the wrong foot. This bill doesn't do as much on cost containment as I'd like...I would have been much more aggressive about cost containment...

...If this passes, the president signs it, we'll be back next year again with something trying to fix it. We've got to start changing the momentum because the other alternative was, when it was punted on in the 90s, it took us a decade more, and all the predictions of health care cost increases took place...

I'll close with this story. I, like you Chap, am very proud of the fact of the bipartisan support I've gotten, particularly very very conservative folks. I had somebody say to me, you know "Mark Mark, this health care bill, you know how awful it is, how it stinks." This was a very conservative guy. About 3 1/2 weeks ago, he said, "Well Warner, I just got a 28% increase in my health insurance premiums, could you tell me about that health care bill one more time?" The status quo will kill us. So let's shake up, get a jolt to the system..
One quick point: as far as the public option is concerned, I'm not sure exactly what Sen. Warner was getting at with his remarks, but the CBO found that the public option would cost less and reduce the deficit.