Senator John ThuneHealth care spending currently accounts for one-sixth of our entire economy and soon one in five dollars Americans spend will be on health care. President Obama and the Democrat leaders in Congress are proposing plans to overhaul the health care system, and discussions over the future of health care will define the Congressional agenda for the rest of the year. As the debate moves forward, I strongly believe we need to pursue health care reforms this year to address rising costs for families and businesses, but we should address these challenges in a way that will lead to more choices for patients and doctors, not more power for government bureaucrats.
Reforms to the health care system should focus on reducing costs for patients and taxpayers, expanding access to care, and improving quality. While much of the discussion surrounding the health care proposals has focused on spending more money (upwards of $1 trillion over ten years), there are ways to achieve these objectives without growing the federal government, raising taxes, or adding to a burgeoning national debt. After all, we want to reduce costs over the long run for patients, providers and for taxpayers-not add to them.
Increasing the health insurance choices available to consumers in states like South Dakota would be a big step forward for our health care system. Currently, individuals are largely prohibited from buying health insurance plans across state lines. Changing our laws to open up the insurance market would not cost anything, but would provide more affordable options for people in our state. I have also been a long-time supporter of allowing small businesses and self-employed individuals to band together to buy more affordable health insurance.
Information technology advancements have the potential to decrease costs though electronic health records and telemedicine. Avera, Sanford, Rapid City Regional, our Indian Health Service facilities have all benefited from telehealth as a way to provide access to care in many small towns or remote areas. These technologies save doctors and patients time and money, while improving the quality of care in rural areas.
Effective health care reform must also include reforms to the medical malpractice insurance process. Doctors in South Dakota and elsewhere face rising costs for medical malpractice insurance, and those costs are passed on to patients. South Dakota doctors frequently tell me that our dysfunctional malpractice system leads to a greater dependence on "defensive medicine" where doctors feel they need to order more tests than are necessary to protect against frivolous lawsuits. These added costs do nothing to improve the quality of care, and yet add an estimated $70 to $126 billion every year to our health costs.
Unfortunately, many Democrats in Congress believe that Americans should be provided a new, government-run insurance plan to cover the uninsured, which will inevitably reduce choices of care in states like South Dakota-not expand them. It will also require massive tax increases. I do not believe a Washington-run health care system is a viable way to expand health insurance coverage. Most importantly, I would not want government bureaucrats to have control over individual health care decisions, coming between patients and their doctors.
Our health care system is not perfect, and there are several ways that Congress can act to expand health care coverage. Real, fiscally responsible reform should be built around expanding the options individuals and small businesses have for buying health care coverage. A larger government role in health care will only take away choices from patients and doctors while raising taxes on all Americans. I am committed to listening to South Dakotans and working with my Senate colleagues in a bipartisan manner to expand health care choices to improve quality of care while lowering the cost.