Burr: Americans Must Shape Reform
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr urged Americans to remain active in the health-care reform process Wednesday, saying they have the power to reshape the debate in Washington.
Burr was the keynote speaker at the Moore County Chamber of Commerce's "State of Federal Government" luncheon at the Pinehurst Member's Club. He spoke on the economy and health-care reform, both hot-button issues right now.
He called health-care reform "the single biggest issue" that he will deal with in his career and said making the wrong move would burden younger generations with repairing the damage.
"The impact should come from you," he said. "What's going to happen over the next 60 days, I can't tell you. But I will tell you this, if the American people stay engaged in this process, then they will drastically change the way this debate happens and where we end up.
"If the American people get past August when the town meetings are over and their representatives go back to Washington and they say, 'I did my part and now I can go home and feel good,' nothing will happen.
"My message to the American people is do not take your foot off their throat. Keep it there where the American people have it today until they have committed to pick another direction to go."
After serving 10 years in the U.S. House, Burr was elected to the Senate in 2004. He plans to seek re-election next year.
Burr has been working with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, on an alternative health-care reform plan, called the Patient's Choice Act, for three and a half years.
The United States currently spends about 17 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, which Burr said is unsustainable. Instead of pumping more money into health care, Burr said it's critical to take the existing money in health care and redirect it in a way to obtain a different outcome.
Burr said there are three main criteria that a bill has to meet in order for it to be true reform -- everybody is covered under the plan, it invests in prevention, wellness and chronic disease management, and is financially sustainable.
"If you can't bring transparency to health care, you will never reform health care," he said. "Period, end of sentence. Because reform requires a buy-in by the American people. The patient has to buy into the process, but so does the insurer, the health-care provider, the hospital, the doctor. This has to be a collaborative effort ... Anything short of everybody, it's not reform."
Burr called prevention, wellness and chronic disease management the only three direct cost-savings in health care.
"It's unbelievable the potential savings that we've got there if in fact we will pay to begin to change the lifestyles of the American people," he said.
Burr then asked why any health-care reform would be passed that's sustainable for only 10 years. He said he was more concerned about how the reform scores in years 10 through 30 than the first 10 years and said the current proposals on the table "blow to pieces" the cost of health care in years 10 through 30.
Burr said his Patient's Choice Act is designed to cover 34 million of the uninsured. He said that is accomplished through federal refundable tax credits good for either paying the tax consequences of the health benefits provided by an employer, or for individuals and families to go out and construct health care coverage that fits their needs.
It also calls for health insurance portability -- the ability for an individual to take health coverage with them as they change jobs. With portability, Burr said it offers insurers the possibility to cover an individual from age 24 to 64 -- when they transition to Medicare -- which greatly increases the incentives of the insurer to invest more in the management of the individual's health.
"This is all about how we take the risk model of health insurance," he said, "and direct it in a different way so that it focuses on something else other than the process, and that's the outcome. All of a sudden, you begin to get transparency in health care."
With respect to the economy, Burr said it's important to prioritize spending and make the right investments. He cautioned that there wouldn't be more federal bailout money to fill in state budget gaps next year.
"We're broke," he said. "We don't have enough money. We've got to be extremely careful about where we make investments. This is the proverbial line that we heard when we grew up: When the hole gets deeper, drop the shovel. As the debt increases, quit spending."
'Private Capital Is Fuel'
Burr considers the stabilization of housing values a key ingredient for turning the economy around.
He said that the fact that Americans don't know the value of their greatest asset -- their home -- from day to day is disconcerting, and said the government must take a step back from how it has attempted to turn the economy around, and take a more elementary approach.
"It's hard for me to understand how we're going to reinflate consumer confidence if we can't stabilize housing values in this country," he said.
Burr said that he is not optimistic that the country is going to see a quick economic turnaround. But he asserted that the United States is still the largest manufacturing nation in the world, and despite competition from China, it still out-manufactures China at an "alarming" rate. He added that manufacturing is starting to return to the United States after experiences in China.
"We've got to bring private capital back to this country," he said. "Private capital is the only thing that will fuel economic growth at the pace that we need to begin to reinflate employment and to begin to put Americans back to work."
Burr also fielded several questions from the audience. He received a standing ovation after concluding his remarks.
At the beginning of the speech, Burr commented on the death of his colleague, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy died from brain cancer Tuesday evening.
"[He was] a real model of somebody who stood up for everything he believed in," he said. "Not always did I agree with him but I respected the fact that he believed in what he went out and worked for."
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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