WASHINGTON—The House Committee on Education and Labor, of which Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers is a member, began consideration of the America’s Affordable Health Choice Act (H.R. 3200) in July. Congressman Ehlers gave this opening statement on the bill: “We are here today to consider legislation that will have a significant impact on my constituents, as well as most other Americans.
“In Michigan, about 11 percent, or just over one million people, lack health insurance coverage. I strongly believe that Michiganders and all Americans should have access to good health care. I support making improvements to health care so that more people may have more of the health care that they need, while maintaining control over their own health care. Having suffered from chronic asthma during my childhood, I fully understand that all people need access to excellent doctors, nurses and hospitals.
“We should focus on prevention of illness, finding cures, and ensuring that Americans have accurate information about their health while receiving the best health care in the world. In addition, I support combating fraud, waste and abuse in health care so that taxpayer funds are wisely invested in providing health care that people need.
“I also believe that the state and federal governments have a role in providing health care access and payment, especially for vulnerable populations such as the frail elderly, people with disabilities and those with lower incomes. In fact, I have supported many proposals over the years to expand health care coverage. For example, I voted in support of providing low-income children with health care under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and I supported providing access to prescription drugs for people enrolled in Medicare.
“But, even though the government has a responsibility to ensure its citizens have access to health care, it does not mean the government has to provide it.
“We must take care in defining the role of the government, especially given the role the private sector currently plays. In Michigan, two out of three nonelderly people with health insurance receive it through their employer. Controversial “pay or play” schemes will disrupt employer-sponsored coverage or cause benefit packages to change. In addition, many people and businesses rely upon the informed advice of health insurance agents, often their friends, in selecting health plans. Under the “exchange system,” Americans will no longer have access to the valuable advice of their trusted advisors. Moreover, a government-run, public plan likely will create an unlevel playing field, pricing private health insurers out of business. This is an issue which particularly concerns me.
“When America and the states decided that every auto owner needed to have auto insurance, they did not set up state-run or federal-run auto insurance companies. Rather, they made use of the existing structure. Similarly, if we now would like to advocate that everyone have health insurance, why should we assume that the federal government must provide it all? We have a complete industry that deals with health insurance, we have private agents who are well-known in their communities. They are well-versed in the issues, and they know how to best help the public. We should make use of them, and not invest in a public plan in which the government controls it all.
“Also, we must ensure that health legislation boosts our economy, not harms it further. In Michigan, we have been struggling economically for too many years. The unemployment rate in my state is 15.2 percent, and the total number of unemployed reached an unfortunate historic high of 740,000 in June. I am concerned that new mandates and taxes will cost my state and our nation jobs at a time when we can least afford to lose them.
“In addition, we must foster a workforce equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to innovate and transform medicine. I am a strong supporter of improving our students’ math and science education, and this is crucial to having an excellent medical workforce. Related to this, I plan to offer an amendment to provide loan assistance to students entering the medical profession.
“Finally, we must safeguard our children’s future by not only providing them access to excellent health care, but also by providing a fiscally responsible system. We need to address the structural and financial problems associated with the current government programs before enacting a new, massive entitlement program. To that end, I am a cosponsor of the Securing America’s Future Economy Commission Act, and I am hopeful that provisions from this legislation will be included in any final health care reform legislation.
“I look forward to carefully evaluating the legislation before us, and it is my hope that we will enact bipartisan legislation that truly helps Americans access health care without bankrupting either our citizens or our nation.”