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Let me begin by thanking Chairman Baucus for his tremendous efforts on this issue. I’ll talk more about that in a few moments, but I also want to briefly discuss some of the key issues in this bill and what they could mean for every American.

Individuals should have the right to choose the health care benefits that best meet their needs.  This bill still mandates a level of benefits that will significantly increase the costs of many insurance plans being sold in Wyoming and many other states across the country.  I believe that every American should have the choice to buy a lower cost health plan that covers basic services and offers catastrophic protections.

Individuals should also never be compelled to enroll in a government run plan.  This bill would enroll everyone with incomes below 100% of poverty in Medicaid.  Over 40 percent of the nation’s doctors now refuse to see Medicaid patients, but this would be the only health care option under this bill for 11 million working class Americans.  The expansion of Medicaid in this bill directly contradicts the goal stated in the President’s recent speech, of providing increased choice and competition in our health care system.  I believe that every American should have the right to choose to enroll in private health insurance coverage.

We also need to reduce health care costs for individuals.  This bill does not do enough to lower costs, and in many cases will actually increase the costs of health care through new taxes and mandates.  I believe that health care reform legislation must address fundamental issues like medical liability reforms, providing financial incentives to adopt healthy behaviors, modifying our tax code to encourage more rational choices about employer health insurance, and eliminating new taxes that will only drive up the prices patients pay for health care.

Medicare savings should also go to strengthen the Medicare program.  This bill cuts over $400 billion from the Medicare program, and then spends that money to cover the uninsured. If a doctor won’t see you, you don’t have health care.

Medicare physicians’ fees will be cut by 25% in 2011, and an additional 5% per year for the next 8 years.  Medicare also provides no protections to its beneficiaries against catastrophic costs.  I believe that we can do better, and that any savings from the Medicare program should be used to strengthen and improve the Medicare program.

I’ve outlined some of the most significant problems, but I would also like to commend the leadership of Chairman Baucus, who has worked with Ranking Member Grassley and other Republicans and Democrats on the Committee for months to attempt to develop a bipartisan health care reform bill.  The Chairman sought out a wide range of the ideas and tried to develop the best possible bill that could gain broad support in the Senate.

This effort stands in marked contrast to what happened at the HELP Committee, where I serve as the ranking Republican.  The HELP Committee majority staff drafted the bill with no apparent input from Republicans.  The Committee then voted down almost every single substantive Republican amendment to improve the bill on straight party line votes.  As a result, the HELP Committee finally reported a partisan bill that is loved by liberal pundits, but has no chance of passing the Senate.

Chairman Baucus resisted the temptation to give in to the demands of partisans, and tried to develop a good bill that could gain the support of a large majority of the Senate.  I have said for many months that health reform should have broad, bipartisan support in order to gain the trust and support of the American people.  Health care reform will affect the lives of every American and have dramatic impacts on our economy and the future prospects of our nation – it is too important to be passed by narrow, partisan majorities.

Unfortunately, the efforts of Chairman Baucus were ultimately unable to produce a bipartisan bill that I could support, in large part because of arbitrary deadlines imposed by Senate leadership and the White House.  Apparently, in some circles, there is a belief that passing a bill quickly is more important than getting it right.

I regret that we ran out of time, and were not able to resolve several key issues that I believe must be addressed in any comprehensive health reform package.  I remain committed to working on bipartisan health reforms that address these issues.  I will, however, continue to offer constructive ideas and hope that we still might have the opportunity to develop bipartisan solutions to address the health care challenges faced by our nation.