Knowing of your interest in the ongoing debate in Congress over health care reform, I wanted to update you on a number of votes and positions that I have taken during the process.
Together with 60 of my colleagues, I voted in favor of proceeding to debate the proposed health care reform legislation. I have yet to decide whether I will support final passage of the bill.
I have stated on several occasions my concerns that the Obama administration should have begun the health care process with a clear, detailed proposal, from which legislation could then be put into place. Instead, the legislation now before the Congress is the product of five separate congressional committees, three in the House and two in the Senate. I and my staff have carefully worked through thousands of pages of sometimes contradictory information, and have done our best to bring focus to the debate and clarity to any final product.
Our country needs health care reform. While a strong percentage of Americans are satisfied with their health care, the system is not working for millions of others. Spiraling costs for health care also have placed our biggest industries at a severe competitive disadvantage worldwide, and have become unsustainable for many small businesses.
But true reform must be done in an effective and responsible fashion, without creating a cumbersome, overly-bureaucratic system. The bottom line should be to achieve a more cost-effective health care system that increases accessibility, affordability, and quality of care, and which does not burden our economy along the way.
The process also requires openness, so that the American people understand exactly what is being debated. At the start of this debate I was one of eight Senators who called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to post the text and complete budget scores of the health care bill on a public website for review at least 72 hours prior to both the first vote and final passage. This request was agreed to, affording proper transparency in the process.
Over the past few weeks, I have taken a number of difficult votes. As with every other issue since I came to the Senate I have voted my conscience throughout this process. I have broken with my party six times, including four votes to send the current legislation back to committee for a more thorough review. I voted five times against proposed cuts to Medicare due to my concerns about taking half a trillion dollars out of that system at a time when the pool for Medicare is about to expand with the retirement of those in the Baby Boom generation. I am a long-time supporter of Medicare Advantage programs which have, in my view, improved services in rural areas of Virginia, and I did not want to see cuts to benefits or services.
On the issue of abortion, I studied the bill closely to ensure that no taxpayer dollars will be used to fund abortions. I am convinced that this legislation strictly adheres to the requirements of the Hyde Amendment. It also includes clear conscience provisions for providers and consumers who elect to reject a plan that offers such coverage.
Since drug prices in the U.S. have risen dramatically in recent years, a 9% jump in 2009 alone, I have cosponsored an amendment to lower prescription drug costs. The measure would allow Americans to safely import lower-priced, Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs from other approved countries, and save the federal government nearly $20 billion over the next ten years.
In summary, I have been working actively to improve the health care reform bill for the good of our country and without bowing to party politics. As we continue to debate the bill and amend it, I remain hopeful that the Senate can reach consensus on fair and effective health care legislation. Whether this is so will determine my vote on final passage.
As the Senate continues to debate health care reform, please be assured that your views will be very helpful to me and my staff. I hope that you will continue to share your thoughts with us in the years ahead.
Thank you again for your interest in this important matter.
United States Senator