Senator John ThuneIndividuals and families across South Dakota and America are finding it harder and harder to afford quality health insurance. In an attempt to solve this problem, the United States Senate recently debated two medical liability reform bills that would have brought sensible and needed reform to the medical liability system, which would lower the cost of health care while increasing access and quality. Unfortunately, a minority group of Senators blocked these pieces of legislation from ever receiving up-or-down votes.
States like South Dakota are seeing a shortage of physicians in part due to the high cost of medical malpractice insurance. According to the South Dakota Office of Rural Health, Hot Springs, Phillip, Bowdle, Mobridge, Wagner and Redfield are currently in need of primary care physicians. Additionally, access to obstetricians and gynecologists in rural South Dakota has been hampered by the high cost of malpractice insurance premiums.
The medical liability crisis in America is blocking average Americans access to quality care by forcing physicians out of business rather than risking multi-million dollar lawsuits. In 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services found that the direct cost of medical liability coverage and the indirect cost of defensive medicine (the practice of conducting extra tests or procedures primarily to reduce malpractice liability) increased the amount the federal government must pay for federal health programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, by $22.5 billion per year.
Similarly, a January 2006 study concluded that medical liability and defensive medicine accounted for 10 percent of the increase in rising costs of health insurance premiums.
As a member of the United States House of Representatives, I had numerous opportunities to vote on medical liability reform. Each time reform legislation was passed by the House and sent to the Senate for a vote, it was filibustered and blocked.
A National Quorum poll conducted in April 2006 found that 75 percent of the Americans surveyed said they wanted their elected representatives in Washington to support comprehensive medical liability reform. It is time that the obstructionists in the Senate listen to the American people and allow a straight up-or-down vote on medical liability reform. Obstructing a vote on reform jeopardizes every American's access to quality health care, and it raises the cost of health care for families, individuals and small businesses that need the coverage the most.
The Senate also recently debated a bill (S.1955) that addresses the issue of the 45 million uninsured Americans. This legislation would provide health insurance for 750,000 working individuals who currently do not have health care through their employer. S. 1955 would have allowed the creation of small business health plans to help lower the cost of health care for small business owners and their employees. In addition to lowering the cost of care for employers and employees, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that S. 1955 would reduce net federal spending for Medicaid by $790 million over the next 10 years. States would see a Medicaid savings of $600 million over 10 years. If enacted, these savings could be passed on to patients and taxpayers everywhere.
South Dakota has nearly 73,000 small businesses and many of the estimated 90,000 uninsured individuals in South Dakota, or 12 percent of our population work force is family members of individuals who work for small businesses.
Small businesses are the backbone of South Dakota's economy. It is time these businesses were placed on a level playing field and allowed to pool together to purchase health insurance just like large employers and unions. This simple act would provide access to thousands of people across our state who currently have no health insurance. Unfortunately, this legislation was also blocked. Despite these setbacks to provide greater access to affordable health care, I will continue to work on this important issue.