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U.S. Representative of Kentucky on healthcare reform debate

Rep. Ed Whitfield

By Chad Lampe

Murray, KY – President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday reinforced his administrations goal of reforming healthcare sooner rather than later. His speech, in an effort to bolster support from American people and unify members of congress, has again ignited debates among congressional members. Chad Lampe speaks with Kentucky's 1st district U.S. Congressman Ed Whitfield about the ongoing healthcare reform debate.

Whitfield Unveils 10 Steps to A Healthier America August 11, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC - Aiming to engage with residents of the First Congressional District regarding proposals to overhaul the nation's healthcare system, U.S. Representative Ed Whitfield (KY-01) unveiled 10 steps to create a healthier America today and announced plans to hold four Teletown Halls meetings this month to discuss healthcare issues with thousands of Kentuckians.

"Like many Kentuckians, I believe we need to enact comprehensive healthcare reform legislation which will increase access to quality healthcare and services while lowering costs for all Americans," Whitfield said. "While I don't support government run healthcare or imposing unaffordable costs on taxpayers, I do believe some reforms are needed. I want to hear from our citizens in this healthcare debate and ensure the voices of Kentuckians are heard. In the coming weeks I look forward to discussing the proposals I have laid out and other ideas to improve our nation's healthcare system."

The Congressman, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, crafted ten proposals he plans to advocate for in Congress to help ensure Kentuckians receive the care and treatment they need at a cost they can afford. Whitfield hopes to use his position on the Committee to incorporate many of these ideas into the healthcare bill crafted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Committee Chairman Henry Waxman.

Whitfield also announced he will be traveling the First Congressional District as well as holding four conference calls with constituents this month, allowing him to hear from literally thousands of households on the important subject of healthcare. Whitfield has hosted several Teletown Hall meetings in the past which allow residents in the District to ask the Congressman questions and listen in as he discusses important issues of the day. Based on previous participation rates, it is anticipated that approximately 30,000 people from the First District will participate in this series of Teletown Hall meetings.

Below are the "10 Steps to a Healthier America" Whitfield has proposed:

1. Make Insurance Affordable for All Americans: To ensure all Americans have access to quality healthcare, we need to provide refundable tax credits to individuals and families to purchase insurance. I propose providing individuals with a $5,000 refundable tax credit and families a $10,000 refundable tax credit to purchase insurance in the open market. There are a variety of ways to pay for this, including closing some existing tax loopholes.

2. Ensure No American Gets Left Behind: While programs like SCHIP and Medicaid provide assistance to many low-income individuals, there are still some who fall through the cracks. To prevent this, we need to establish a new premium assistance program to aid low-income individuals with their insurance costs. I propose requiring states to help pay for low-income individuals' healthcare premiums through their state SCHIP and Medicaid programs. Funding for this could come from tightening citizenship requirements for SCHIP and Medicaid by requiring a valid social security card and government issued ID to be shown before someone is enrolled in these programs.

3. Make it Easier and More Affordable for Small Businesses to Provide Insurance: As healthcare rates continue to climb, it has become increasingly difficult for small businesses to cover their employees. When the costs become too high, small business owners are forced to cut benefits altogether, leaving employees and their families to purchase more expensive individual insurance. We need to allow small businesses to band together and negotiate with insurers to get better deals for coverage, and allow churches, alumni associations and other organizations to sponsor groups. Additionally, we have to allow groups to purchase insurance across state lines, which will increase the size of the insurance pool and lower costs.

4. Empower Patients to Take Ownership of their Healthcare by Increasing Transparency: One of the biggest problems with health insurance today is that it is extremely confusing. Many times, consumers are unaware of how much different procedures will cost, how much their out of pocket expenses will be, what types of procedures are actually covered and so on. To remedy this, we need to create a new system to empower patients to take ownership over their healthcare plans. We need to establish an online health care registry which would require insurance companies and the government to disclose the prices they charge or reimburse for services. The database would be searchable so that individuals could go online and shop for the plan that best fits their needs.

5. Ensure Patient Access to Care and Control Costs by Reforming Our Malpractice Laws: One of the biggest challenges facing the First Congressional District is our ability to attract physicians. There are several reasons for this, but I would have to say the biggest one is the lack of medical liability reform in Kentucky - especially since all the bordering states have some type of medical liability reform. The increasing cost of liability insurance as a result of frivolous lawsuits spurs many doctors to pursue defensive medicine to guard against such lawsuits. While I agree patients should be compensated for any malpractice or medical neglect, we need to establish limits in order to prevent frivolous lawsuits.

6. Encourage Healthy Behavior and Promote Preventative Care: Our nation's healthcare costs continue to skyrocket, due in large part to many behaviors that can be prevented. Studies show that 70% of all health-care costs are the direct result of behavior. Furthermore, 74% of all costs are confined to four chronic conditions - cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. A large majority of these conditions are preventable. To promote and encourage healthy behavior, we need to alter federal regulations to encourage employers to allow healthy behavior incentives to their workers.

7. Reform COBRA: As our economy continues to struggle, more and more employees are faced with the task of having to purchase COBRA healthcare coverage in order to provide temporary coverage while they look for another job. The costs of these plans are extremely high and not economically feasible for someone who has just lost a job. We need to reform the COBRA market to ensure workers have more affordable healthcare plans to choose from. I propose allowing individuals to immediately transition into the individual market without having to exhaust COBRA benefits. This would also allow employers the flexibility to offer a less expensive catastrophic plan at the time of the employee's departure.

8. Encourage Individuals to Invest in Their Own Healthcare: One of the biggest things we can do to reduce the cost of healthcare is make individuals financially invested in their own well being. We need to encourage the use of health savings accounts and offer lower premiums and reduced cost sharing for those who practice healthy behaviors. Safeway, Inc. has taken this approach and, in turn, kept their per capita healthcare costs flat, while most American companies' costs have increased 38% during the same time period.

9. Ensure Access to Quality Medical Care in Rural Areas: Areas across the country are facing healthcare professional shortages, particularly rural areas. As students leave school with more and more debt, it becomes harder to attract them to rural areas to practice. This in turn makes it more difficult for residents to have access to proper health care. We need to provide incentives for doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to practice in rural areas. I propose providing student loan forgiveness to students who practice in underserved areas by re-authorizing the National Health Service Corps Scholarship and Loan Repayment Programs.

10. Ensure Physicians are Paid Fairly: Medicare continues to reimburse physicians at a level lower than the actual costs of procedures, causing some physicians to stop seeing Medicare patients. We need to ensure physicians are adequately reimbursed for their services in order to make certain they are still able to practice medicine. To address this reimbursement inequity once and for all we need to replace the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula with a more accurate reimbursement method, the Medicare Economic Index (MEI).