• 43°

A non-solution to a health care problem

Last month, the Senate Democrats rushed a two-trillion dollar spending bill through the Senate without a single vote from their Republicans colleagues.

The so-called “health care reform bill” raises taxes by more than half-a-trillion dollars, increases premiums for health insurance, places additional burdens on states, and threatens the health choices that millions currently enjoy.

This is not reform and is not what the American people are asking for.

In my opinion, the way this bill was negotiated — behind closed doors and without the input of members from both sides of the aisle — will sour future relations and bipartisan discussion on other major challenges like debt and deficit reduction.

As we stand right now, America’s debt has exceeded $12 trillion for the first time in history. From 2008 to 2009 alone, the federal debt increased 19 percent, boosting the debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 70 percent to 84 percent in just one year. If we stay on our current spending path, our debt will double in five years and triple in ten.

We have amassed a staggering $70 trillion in unfunded obligations over the next 75 years – an estimated $600,000 per American household.

Our Medicare program is already on shaky footing with $37 trillion in unfunded future costs, and the Medicare trust fund is expected to be insolvent by 2017.

The fact is our budgets are unbalanced for as far as the eye can see.

Last year we borrowed $1.4 trillion to run the government. Furthermore, approximately 50 percent of our debt is in the hands of foreign countries like China and the OPEC nations.

The problems facing our country are too serious for business as usual: each side attempting to one-up the other for political points as the 2010 elections cast a looming shadow over the Capitol.

At a time when Ohio’s unemployment rate is at 10.6 percent, and the national unemployment rate is at 10 percent, the choices Congress makes must first do no harm to the economy.

I’ve heard all the arguments of why health care reform is needed, and I agree with most of them.

Frankly, there are a number of incremental things we could do today to make real improvements to our system.

These include: eliminating pre-existing exclusions and lifetime caps on health insurance, making it easier for small businesses to group together to reduce their health care costs; passing medical liability reform; increasing flexibility in the private market so people have more options and can choose insurance products that best meet their needs; implementing policies that encourage wellness and prevention; and finally, eliminating the fraud and abuse that continues to plague our public health care programs.

Instead, Senate Democrats have passed a massive new spending bill that does little to fix these problems.

Here we are, in the worst recession since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans are out of work. Others lucky enough to have a job are wondering if they will be next to see a pink slip.

Still, Congress is negotiating a final health care reform bill that will place untenable burdens on doing business in this country — imposing $28 billion in new taxes on employers and significantly hindering the engines of job creation.

The best way to give Americans economic security and access to health insurance is to get them back to work. We should not be asking our nation’s businesses to take on new tax burdens in the current recession.

Equally troubling, most states – including Ohio – will face new fiscal obligations to the tune of $26 billion under this bill.

If you are not lucky enough to be from Nebraska, or another state that got a special deal from Democratic leadership in return for a passing vote, you will be hit with a portion of the cost of expanding the Medicaid program.

As a former Governor of Ohio, former Chairman of the National Governors Association and former Chairman of the National League of Cities, I am very familiar with what unfunded mandates can do to state and local governments.

The American people should understand that the new state obligations under the Medicaid expansion will mean less funding for education programs, roads and bridges, county and local government projects, and safety service programs run by their states.

I do not understand how my colleagues think we can spend more when we cannot even afford what we already have.

Additionally, I cannot support this bill because it directly and indirectly allows taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for abortions.

Something as enormous and complex as health care reform should have been accomplished through bipartisanship and complete transparency.

I hope my colleagues will listen to the American people, take a step back from the current legislation, and include my Republican colleagues in a common sense health reform solution.

We must reduce the cost of health insurance as well as our federal spending on health care, and provide access to the sort of quality health care the American people deserve.

George Voinovich is a U.S. Senator representing Ohio.