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Thanks for that nice introduction, thank you for your warm welcome, and most of all, thank you for inviting me to join you for the 100th Annual Convention of the Wyoming Dental Association.  I appreciate having this opportunity to share some thoughts with you about our health care system and our economy.  Our health care system and our economy are closely linked at every level.  Health care makes up about one sixth of our economy and the impact of health care policy decisions can be felt across nearly every business sector.

As health care providers, I know I don’t have to tell you this -- you see it every day.  Many of you are not only dentists, you’re small business owners, community leaders, and a great many of you are involved in charity work.  You see your patients facing economic challenges, and the impact that it has on them as well as the potential impact it may have on your practice.

This is a strange year – presidential election years are always a little strange – and we have been focused on our nation’s economy.  That’s a good thing.  Here in Wyoming, energy, our most crucial industry, has been decimated by federal regulations that are killing jobs, harming our communities and taking its toll our state’s economy. 

I see it across the state and at home in Gillette.  Diana and I have seen too many jobs disappear in the coal mines there.  But, where you see the impact most starkly is the half empty restaurants and bars in town.  Those service jobs are feeling the war on coal just as much as those who work in the mines.

But I have hope, and my hope is in our state’s small businesses.  They are under pressure from every direction, but we have reason to continue to see small businesses as the economic engines of our communities. 

As someone who ran a small business for years, I understand the pressures of balancing the demands of running a business – making payroll, handling everything from opening the doors in the morning to closing them at night, marketing, waiting on customers, and then calling it a day.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  Your practices are job creators, and an important part of the backbone of our state and local economies.

Part of my job in the Senate is to look for ways to relieve whatever pressure we can from our small businesses.  I always begin with federal regulations because it’s a safe bet that federal regulations can add an unnecessary burden, restrict growth, and can, in some cases, help to push folks out of business entirely.

There is almost no sector that has as much government regulation as health care.  The intersection of the provider and the patient is something with which Washington is obsessed.

As a result, health care has become more complicated – not just patient care, but the federal requirements and restrictions.  Instead of making things easier and more efficient, they have made things more burdensome, costly and more difficult for both health professionals and patients. 

When you see one of your patients, your expertise can help you to assess a great deal about their overall health by evaluating their dental health.  Access to care is important.  Yet, we are facing shortages of dentists in Wyoming, and in nearly every category of health provider.  These are real issues and they have a great impact on the health of the people of our state. 

One easy change I’d like to see is letting people have more flexibility in how they pay for their health care.  I said “easy change” but the reality is, when you’re addressing health care needs and costs – nothing is easy and almost everything will face the resistance of some group in our nation. 

One of the issues I have been working on in the Senate focuses on small businesses that want to contribute to the health costs of their employees.  This can be a competitive advantage as well as a good business practice.  I am holding a Roundtable on this topic next week, and I am looking forward to a substantive discussion on how those federal requirements make health insurance more costly, and what can be done to fix that.  We’ll discuss restrictions that limit employer’s and employee’s options, and how to roll them back.  One thing I have supported for years is making Flexible Spending and Health Savings Accounts more flexible and usable.  That’s just common sense.  Let’s empower patients.  It’s their own money, after all. 

We need fewer federal requirements for the self-employed, small businesses, and their employees.  I’d like to see states take back insurance market regulation, and I’d like to see creative solutions that make a competitive market in health care, keeping providers and their patients in the driver’s seat of health care delivery. 

Now, to get some of these things accomplished will require bipartisanship and cooperation among the House, Senate and the administration.  I believe we can get there if we have willing partners.  But that will also take support for these changes from the provider community.  You understand your business better than we do – how it works and how it can work better -- and we need your help not just to fix today’s problems, but to position our system to be ready for the challenges ahead.

Now, I’ve known many of you for a long time, and you know that I’m a fisherman at heart.  So, in the words of Will Rogers, “If all politicians fished instead of spoke publicly, we would be at peace with the world.”  I second that, and I will conclude by thanking you for what you do for your Wyoming patients, and for the opportunity to speak with you today.