10.16.09

A Message from Senator Burr

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing to determine how health care reform could impact women across North Carolina and the nation. As I have stated before, I agree that we need health care reform so that Americans, regardless of whether they are male or female, can access affordable coverage. That is why I joined my colleague Senator Tom Coburn earlier this year to introduce a reform bill called the Patients' Choice Act.

Rather than creating a new government-run plan, our bill aims to rein in costs by emphasizing prevention and wellness, rather than only treating people when they are sick. Our bill also addresses affordability by ending the "cherry picking" that allows insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Better yet, our bill doesn't increase the deficit or increase taxes.

The health care reform bill the Senate Finance Committee passed this week fails to address malpractice reform and any discussion about affordable health care for women must include medical malpractice reform. The Congressional Budget Office released an analysis just last week that shows that medical liability reform could save taxpayers roughly $54 billion over the next 10 years. Equally as important, comprehensive medical liability reform would reduce total national health care spending by about 0.5 percent - or about $11 billion in 2009 alone.

For example, if we care about making sure women have access to OB/GYNs, we cannot ignore the fact that high malpractice insurance is driving doctors out of this specialty and, even worse, closing practices. This issue seems to be the 800 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to access to affordable health care for women. Additionally, we need to make the insurance marketplace more competitive by allowing individuals to purchase insurance across state lines. This would ensure that women would be able to pick a coverage option that fits their specific needs, even if those needs aren't met by plans offered in their home states. We cannot effectively reform health care without addressing medical malpractice reform.

No one disagrees that reform is necessary, but I will continue to oppose legislation that has been rushed through for the sake of passing something at the expense of quality reform, and I will push for reform that actually reduces cost in addition to expanding health care coverage. We need to get this right so that our children and grandchildren do not have to spend their lifetimes correcting our mistakes and paying off the debt we left them.

Also this week, the Senate passed legislation I cosponsored which authorizes advanced appropriations for VA medical care. The bill, which is now on its way to the President, funds the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) in two-year cycles through advance appropriations. This gives VHA the ability to plan its budget one-year ahead of the regular federal funding process. Currently, the budget for VHA is subject to delay, which hinders the ability to plan and provide quality care to our veterans. In a time of war and an aging veteran population, we have an obligation to ensure that veterans can get the health care they need when they need it.

I am also excited to announce that yesterday, the Department of Interior awarded $487,000 to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse for repairs that will allow the National Park Service to re-open the lighthouse to the public in 2010. Standing 163 feet tall, the lighthouse was first lit on November 1, 1859, making this year its 150th anniversary. Though it has been closed to the public since the spring of 2008, the lighthouse is an important part of our state's heritage and to this day warns ships of the location of the Cape Lookout Shoals. These much needed repairs will allow the lighthouse to re-open so that future generations of Americans will be able to enjoy this national treasure and fully appreciate its historical significance to our state.

On Monday, October 19, 2009, Erskine Bowles, President of the University of North Carolina system, and I will host the 2009 Statewide Economic Development Summit. The event is geared toward local officials, small businesses, and corporations in order to better understand the tools and resources our State's vast array of public and private colleges and universities offer North Carolina businesses and industry. The summit will be held at North Carolina Central University's School of Education and is free and open to the public. To register for the summit or for more information please visit http://aiss.enews.senate.gov/t/77830/4619484/2242/0/ or call my office at (202) 224-3154.

For timely updates from Washington, please visit my blog.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Richard Burr