Senator Shaheen Floor Statement on Cost Quality and Value, October 1st, 2009

October 01, 2009

Mr. President- I want to begin by thanking Senator Merkley for coordinating this effort today.  Last week I was happy to join my fellow freshmen Senators in discussing how critical it is for the Senate to act on health care reform. As the Senate moves to reform our broken health care system, we must address the skyrocketing costs of health care and we must ensure quality in our healthcare system.

Over the past several months I have heard from many individuals and families from New Hampshire who are dealing with the rising costs of health care. The stories they tell me are the most poignant reminders of why we must reform our health care system. Recently I heard from a man named Jeff.  

Jeff had recently lost his job and his insurance. He later experienced swelling of his right leg and shortness of breath but was afraid of the potential costs of seeing a doctor, so he ignored the symptoms. When his symptoms worsened he called 9-1-1 and he was taken to a local hospital.  Doctors realized that he had a blood clot in his leg which had migrated to his lungs. This life threatening condition is called a pulmonary embolism. After treatment his condition has improved drastically. However, the final bill from the hospital was over $200,000. To this day Jeff remains in debt.

Mr. President- Stories like this are unacceptable and they can happen to anyone. The truth is, like Jeff we may all be one medical condition away from financial disaster because of the high costs of health care. We must work to protect hard working individuals and families .

I am proud to come from NH for many reasons, but one of them is because of the great work done at the Dartmouth Institute of Health Policy. For more than 20 years Dartmouth has been a leader in comparative effectiveness research and has revolutionized our understanding of our health care system.  Because of The Dartmouth Atlas we now know that there are huge variations in the way health care resources are used and how money is spent depending on where we live. This chart shows the difference in spending among different regions per Medicare patient. It is amazing to me that Medicare spending can range from $5,000 dollars to $14,000 per person solely based on where they live.  [CHART] Unfortunately, the research also shows that  just because someone lives in a higher spending area, it doesn't mean that they will live longer or have better health outcomes. Simply put, more costly care does not mean better care. This is a fundamental problem with our health care system.

Mr. President- things don't have to be this way. We can find savings in our system and still provide high quality care.  As I mentioned last week, we can save significantly on Medicare costs by reducing hospital readmissions.  I have introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Collins called the Medicare Transitional Care Act that will accomplish this goal  and I was happy to see that key provisions of this bill were included in the Chairman's mark of the Finance Committee

Mr. President- We have the opportunity to fix a problem that has been around for generations. We are faced with the challenge of spiraling costs and a health care system that is simply on an unsustainable trajectory. There is no doubt that this challenge seems overwhelming, but we have the knowledge and the resources to reform our health care system. We must work together to achieve this goal for the people in NH and all across America.

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Senator Jeanne Shaheen