Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Kaufman, on Floor with Fellow Freshman Democratic Senators, Answers the Question: What Can Health Reform Do For You?

October 21, 2009

Full remarks, as prepared for delivery:

I appreciate the opportunity once again to join my colleagues in calling for the passage of meaningful health reform.

This morning we are answering the question “what can health reform do for you?”

I want to take a couple minutes to demonstrate how health reform can help Americans stay active and healthy by enhancing prevention and wellness services for all Americans.

As I have said many, many times, the present health care system is out of control. It has become a gigantic-resource-eating-machine which over time sucks in more money and delivers fewer options and poorer care. 

As odd as it sounds, health is not always the top priority in the present health care system. The current system all too often waits to treat illness and respond to health problems until they become particularly acute and costly to treat.

Promotion of health—both physical and mental health—is not given a top priority in the present health care system because it is not rewarded.

Because of this lack of emphasis, our present health care system is weighed down by Americans who battle one or more chronic diseases every day.

Despite all we spend on health care – and in 2009 this figure will approach $2.5 trillion – almost one in two Americans suffer from common, costly, and often preventable chronic diseases.

The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease estimates that almost 80 percent of American workers have at least one chronic disease, and 55 percent have more than one chronic condition. In fact, treatment of chronic disease accounts for approximately 75 percent of every dollar spent on health care today.

The spending rate is even higher in the Medicaid and Medicare populations, with 83 percent of spending in Medicaid and 98 percent in Medicare going for treatment of chronic disease. 

The rapid growth of chronic disease increases insurance costs for Americans, undercuts U.S. competitiveness, and threatens Medicare and Medicaid viability.

Our present health reform effort gives us the opportunity to reverse this trend.

By empowering and motivating Americans to be physically active and giving them a financial stake in maintaining their day-to-day health status, health reform can put the focus back on healthy living.

An example we can build on is the recent success that Safeway Corporation has had in reducing health premiums for many of their employees by providing them incentives to change their behavior.

The CEO of Safeway, Steven Burd, created a program that rewards employees with lower premiums if they reduce their tobacco use, lower their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and achieve a healthy weight.

The completely voluntary program tests for these four measures and employees receive premium discounts for each test they pass.

Aided by this program, obesity and smoking rates at Safeway are roughly 70 percent of the national average and their health-care costs for the last four years have remained constant.

Right now, discounts for healthy behaviors like Safeway’s are limited to 20 percent of the regular premium. Recognizing the success of the programs like these, the health reform bills moving through Congress include provisions to expand the premium discounts for healthy behaviors from 20 percent to 30 percent.

Another attempt to bring increased wellness to the workplace through health reform is a measure that provides grants to small businesses to provide access to comprehensive, evidence-based workplace wellness programs that would help employees make healthier choices.

These are both positive steps to promote healthy behaviors and give incentives to keep premium costs under control.

Also, by authorizing and expanding School-Based Health Clinics, health reform gives America’s children more opportunity to learn about the merits of healthy behaviors at a young age, giving them the tools they need to make healthier choices throughout their lives.

In addition to promoting healthy lifestyles among American workers and children, health reform will make it easier for those enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid to gain access to preventive services and wellness programs.

This is incredibly important not only for the individual health of the enrollees, but to also reduce the long-term costs of chronic disease in these programs.

For instance, health reform will provide Medicare beneficiaries with a free visit to their primary care provider every year to create and update a personalized prevention plan. These plans can address health risks and chronic health problems and design a schedule for regular recommended preventive screenings.

Health reform will also eliminate out-of-pocket costs for preventive services for Medicare beneficiaries, making these services more affordable and increasing the likelihood that they will seek early care before the costs of treating a disease is prohibitive.

For those enrolled in Medicaid, health reform will offer tobacco cessation services to pregnant women, create a new state option for providing chronically ill individuals with a health home to coordinate care, and encourage states to cover preventive services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Again, these are all steps that begin to reward preventive medicine and give people the incentive to utilize such services.

In short, the long-term financial viability of the health care system requires a focus on improving health and addressing the burden of chronic disease.

Health reform gives us the chance to facilitate our health system’s transition from one that focuses on just treating illness to one that is more designed to prevent or delay disease onset and progression.

It is time to empower people to engage in healthy behaviors and to seek, gain access to, and follow through on recommended preventive care.

It is time to gather our collective will and do the right thing during this historic opportunity by passing health care reform.

We can do no less.

The American people deserve no less.

Thank you.

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