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Sen. Mike Enzi makes remarks on Medicare at White House health summit

CQ Transcriptions
Thursday, February 25, 2010; 4:06 PM

ENZI: Thank you, Mr. President, colleagues.

When we're -- when we're talking about insurance reform, we haven't really talked about, but Representative Slaughter kind of opened the door on it, and that's Medicare.

Seniors out there are really nervous. Seniors are the ones objecting the most to the program, and it's because they see half a trillion dollars coming out of their program.

If Medicare were separate, and any savings that we did in Medicare reform went back into Medicare, it would do a lot to relieve the tension that's out there. It'd even be a way to pay for the doc fix.

So I'm hoping that can be a piece of what we're doing.

I really appreciate this exchange. It would have been helpful had we had this nine months or a year earlier and had it in even more detail and for more days.

What we were presented with in the HELP Committee of course was a bill that was already half drafted, and we started the markup on it, and then we got the other half later, and since we had not had any input to the drafting we're credited with 150 amendments. Well, 17 of those amendments were Senator Murkowski where she was inserting Native Americans and tribal in 17 different places. I had 11 of them where we put in a thing that required agencies to cooperate.

So the ideas that we had -- when Senator Kennedy and I were working bills, we'd set down some principles and then put some detail in, and then draft the bills together. And I hope that that's something that we go to on future bills. It works. In a three-year period, he and I got 38 bills signed by the president. In the last year I've gotten two that I've gotten pens from this president. And the way that we've done those has been through that kind -- that kind of a process, and unless we go through that kind of a process, I don't think we're going to -- I don't think we can get to the bipartisan thing, and that's what the purpose of this meeting is, is to kind of get all these ideas together and see how they gel.

In insurance reform, small-business health plans, that's different than the AHPs, which is what they were talking about, and it covers some of the problems that were talked about.

One of the problems is mandates. And Olympia Snowe contributed to that part. She had a provision that if 26 of the states adopted a mandate, it would be a mandate nationwide. And as other mandates became 26, they would be included with it, too.

We talked about health savings accounts. I don't think that meets some of the federal minimum standards that the federal government might put on it, and that's going to disappoint some of our employees, because that is one of the options that federal employees have, is health savings accounts.

And it's particularly good for the younger, healthier people. They can get that. They've got catastrophic coverage. If they put the amount of money that they would have spent on a Blue Cross plan or some other plan, the difference between the two, into a savings account, in three years they've covered the huge deductible, and they can continue to do that tax-free. So it's a -- it's a process that would be really objected to if it's excluded or changed.

I like the exchanges, and the reason I like the exchanges is it's kind of a form of bidding, it's more transparency, people can see what they're buying, and that would be a big help. When we were in the shoe business, my wife used to -- after 10 years she decided she'd bid out our insurance. We didn't know there was that much flexibility in insurance. She saved a bunch. And then, of course, she didn't -- since we were selling shoes, it's kind of a fixed price, so she didn't really take the low bid and then go back to somebody else and say, "Can you make this a little lower?" But that insurance company we'd been with for 10 years came to us and said, "We could have done a better deal." She said, "You should have when I was buying the insurance." And we got much better -- much better bids the next year.

So these exchanges can be good. But what I would hope you would consider is having the exchanges to list anybody's insurance that wants to put in on there, and then mark the ones that meet the federal minimum standards so that people can decide really what's out there in the market, and I think it would pull up some of the ones that are lower down up into the category, and at the same time everybody could see what all is on the market out there, and hopefully regardless of states.

Thank you, Mr. President.

OBAMA: Thank you very much, Mike. And thanks for (inaudible) succinct. Thank you very much. And I thought you shared some important ideas there.

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