Wyden Tells OMA Fight for Free Choice Continues

Sen. Ron Wyden has become an outspoken critic of legislation so far since his amendment failed last week

October 5, 2009 -- Despite his failure to convince his colleagues to pass a free choice amendment to the $880 billion healthcare bill winding its way through Congress, Senator Ron Wyden refuses to give up the fight.

Free choice is “absolutely the key to healthcare reform,” he told physicians attending an Oregon Medical Association meeting last Saturday. Otherwise, “more than 200 million Americans working for large employers won’t have any choice of healthcare coverage.” 

Congress needs to do more than just pour billions of new dollars into a broken healthcare system, he insisted. “Promoting choice is one of the most important elements of healthcare reform; it’s how we get the most affordable coverage and promote accountability.” 

Unfortunately none of the health bills circulating through Congress bend the cost curve by changing the incentives that drive the system, he told physicians. The amendment would open the insurance exchange to people in large employer groups or require that companies offer workers choice of at least two health plans.
Wyden's address to the OMA came two days after he withdrew the amendment from the Senate Finance Committee because it was clear the measure lacked the necessary votes to pass. The amendment faced steep opposition from big business lobbyists.
“If the individual remains detached and removed from the major decisions, we won’t see much change anytime soon,” Wyden said. “That’s why I’m pursuing the Free Choice Amendment. It will ensure if Americans like their coverage they can keep it, but they also can get more choices, and put the financial savings in their own pocket. That’s essential to bending the cost curve anytime soon. Patients need more of a say.”
Wyden said he's committed to a public option, a government-sponsored health plan. He called it a “sensible role that achieves all of our objectives.” States should have the ability to develop their own unique public option models, he said.  
“I hope we can give states maximum flexibility -- not one size fits all -- so they can take on the public option, and start focusing on the consequences of the no choice option, which is the worst of all worlds.”
People also need access to large employer pools that have low administrative costs that don’t discriminate by rejecting people with pre-existing conditions. “This is how the federal system works,” he said. “We need a similar option that works in the real world.” 
Wyden touted his ability to reward Oregon physicians by boosting payments to Medicare Advantage plans that keep costs low and focus on high quality.   

He believes tort reform is another essential component of healthcare reform, yet the issue hasn’t been discussed by the Senate Finance Committee, which Wyden called “disappointing.” 

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The health care reform effort is confirming my fears that Congress is in the thrall of lobbyists and the public welfare can be damned. It appears that we're turning over a fifth of our economy, to use a favorite term of the alarmists, not to the government but to insurance companies who will gain a whole new market of people who are forced to buy their product. (I can't believe this is constititutional.) This, in exchange for minor concessions, and with little cost control built into the system. Lobbyists are costing industry $2 million a DAY, according to The New York Times, but those paying for them have reason to believe that they'll get their money's worth. I hope Ron Wyden sticks to his guns. I'm amazed that the Obama team didn't get behind his proposal from the get-go. Instead, they let this become a partisan food fight. My policy costs $770.00 a month and takes me and my husband to the doctor's door -- treatment extra. My older son lives in Canada, where the system isn't perfect but far better at delivering the greatest good for the greatest number.