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e-News July 31, 2009

1. The Week Just Past
2. The “Uninsured” By the Numbers
3. House Passes “Treading Water” Defense bill
4. Working to Improve Veterans’ Care

The Week Just Past

“As I write, the House is preparing to leave Washington for its August break.  Normally, it is not a positive development when Congress leaves major legislation unfinished.  However, in this case, it is very beneficial that Speaker Pelosi’s rush to pass a massive, $1.5 trillion government takeover of health care has at least been delayed.

“Don’t get me wrong: I support health reform.  Any time a child or a parent goes without the care they need, it represents a very serious personal crisis for that family.  I stand ready and willing to work with the President and all in Congress to craft a solution that cut costs and improves affordability and availability of quality health care by building on the strengths of our private sector system, not by turning it over to the government to run.

“Unfortunately, the bills that Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid were threatening to force feed to Congress foreshadows a government takeover of health care that raises taxes, rations care, and drives health care costs even higher.   

“Because of the Speaker’s failure to convince her own Majority to allow a debate on her bill, the American people will have several weeks to analyze and digest this massive 1,100 page bill.  Let me tell you, it can be a scary document.

“Take just one example: the bill will expand the role of Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), the one Washington-based agency with the sole power to set costs for medical procedures under Medicare.

“This adopts the British N.I.C.E. model (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) which makes binding recommendations to cut costs and sets age limits on what medical procedures, treatments and interventions are allowed. N.I.C.E. is a rationing board that reduces spending by limiting the treatments that 61 million citizens are allowed to receive through Britain’s National Health System.
 
“There is also substantial talk of limiting the ability of doctors to prescribe certain kinds of medicines, even if your doctor prescribes a certain brand. As we have seen in Britain, N.I.C.E. has limited the use of many drugs, including Alzheimer's drugs for patients in the early stages of the disease. Doctors in Britain argued vociferously that the most effective way to slow the progress of the disease is to give drugs at the first sign of dementia. Clearly, this is not what we need in America!

“Once again, Americans deserve health care reform.  But we have to get it right! Operating in a bipartisan manner, we will be able to find a way to improve affordability and availability of quality health care without turning it over to the government to run.”

The “Uninsured” By the Numbers

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2007 (the most recent year tabulated) 45.7 million people in the United States were uninsured.  A closer look at these numbers should inform the current debate over how the improve health care in America:

Of that 45.7 million people:

  • 9.5 million people were non-citizens.
  • 12.1 million people had household incomes less $25,000 which means they are already eligible for several public health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
  • 7.3 million had annual incomes higher than $84,000, putting health coverage within their financial reach.
  • 9.1 million were uninsured for less than 1 year. Half regained their health coverage within four months                                                    

This means 7.8 lower income American citizens can be characterized as “long-term uninsured.”   

House Passes “Treading Water” Defense bill

The House on Thursday passed the annual Defense Appropriations Act for the fiscal year that begins on October 1.   Rep. Frelinghuysen, a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered this statement on the floor of the House: 

“Mr. Chairman:  I rise in support of this legislation and want to echo the comments of my Ranking Member, Mr. Young.  This is a good bill.   

“Clearly, had I written the bill, I would have written it differently in certain areas. 

“Overall, I wish our Subcommittee could have done more.   But I recognize that we did the best with the allocation we were given.

“This bill is $3.5 billion short of the President’s request – despite the fact that we are engaged in two, hard-fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are far from over.  In fact, the President has obligated us to an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan, where casualties have been rising.    

“Mr. Chairman, the first time America tangled with extremists overseas, President John Adams was confronted by partisans who chanted: ‘Millions for defense, not a penny for tribute.’

“That was then. This is now.

“At a time when this Congress has found the ‘will and the wallet’ to throw billions of borrowed dollars at every domestic program under the sun, our leaders are finding ways to cut defense – sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly. 

“I tell my Colleagues who have pledged to support a strong national defense, that this bill is the high water mark.   It’s all downhill from here.

“I support reform of our military acquisition processes. 

“I support Secretary Gates’ program to re-examine our national security priorities in light of the new irregular challenges and threats that are proliferating well beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“But I worry about this Administration’s apparent obsession with ‘THIS-war-ism.’ I urge my Colleagues to make sure we make enough investments today to ensure that we will be prepared to defend our interests against all threats in the years to come.

“With that said, I support this legislation. 

“The bill contains:

  • funding for a 3.4 percent pay raise for our troops (all volunteers);
  • $30 billion to provide first class medical care through our Defense Health program;
  • $15 billion for shipbuilding – the first time since 1992 that our Navy has built 10 ships; 
  • $1.7 billion for the procurement of 18 more F-18 Super Hornet fighters - 9 aircraft above the budget request. We also set the stage for a future multi-year procurement of the F-18 aircraft to begin to close the Navy’s ‘fighter gap;’
  • $3.6 billion for more MRAPs for Afghanistan;
  • $500 million for National Guard Equipment for both overseas and home-state missions.  Remarkably, this money was unrequested by the Administration.

“Finally, the bill does not contain $100 million requested by the Administration the close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.  Rather, it is accompanied by Mr. Lewis’ report language that prevents a single detainee from being released or transferred until the Administration submits a plan to Congress.  The plan must include an assessment of the risks to the American people, a guarantee that U.S. citizens will be both informed of any transfers and ensured of their safety.  

“However, I wish we could find a way to restore the cuts to missile defense and ensure that the F-22 assembly line keeps rolling.

“In closing, I thank Chairman Murtha and Ranking Member Young for their leadership and urge passage of the bill.

“I yield back the balance of my time.”

Working to Improve Veterans’ Care

The House this week passed a series of bills designed to improve care for veterans and to provide training and support for families caring for wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

H.R. 3155 would authorize a new caregiver program for family and non-family caregivers of veterans. The program would offer support services, counseling and mental health services, respite care, medical care, and reimbursements for certain travel expenses.

H.R. 3219 broadly aims to improve the insurance and medical benefits available to vets and includes language from an earlier bill that would make $1,000 monthly payments to members of 28 groups that fought on behalf of the United States during World War II.

H.R. 1293 will increase the amount veterans could receive for improvements and structural alterations furnished as part of home health services. Veterans with service-connected disabilities would be entitled to $6,800 and those with non-service connected disabilities would receive $2,000.