Sen. Kent Conrad makes remarks on Medicare at White House health summit

CQ Transcriptions
Thursday, February 25, 2010; 4:58 PM

CONRAD: Well, thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for allowing us to come and visit about what really is the 800-pound gorilla facing the federal budget, and that is the health care accounts of the United States, Medicare, Medicaid and the rest.

What we all know that is true is the biggest unfunded liability of the United States is Medicare. What we all know is true is the trustees have told us Medicare is going to go broke in eight years.

So the idea that we don't have to do anything about Medicare is utterly disconnected from reality. The idea that we don't have to find savings in Medicare is an admission that we are headed for a fiscal cliff that we're going to go right over.

CONRAD: And if we really want to endanger the benefits to people who are getting Medicare, the best way to do that is to do nothing. Because if we do nothing, we will guarantee that Medicare goes broke.

So, together, we can either do this together or we can have this imposed on us. I very much hope we do it together.

Senator Coburn, and I'm sorry -- did he leave? I'm sorry that he's not here, because he said something that was one of the most important comments made here today, and something that I think has gotten way too little attention. And that's the question of those who are chronically ill.

As we analyzed Medicare, we found a startling statistic: 5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, 5 percent, use half of all of the money. I think Paul knows this well. Five percent use 50 percent of the money. Who are they? They're the chronically ill. People who have multiple serious conditions.

And I think Dr. Coburn was really referencing that when he talked about the need to better coordinate their care, because we are wasting massive amounts of money and getting worse health care outcomes than we could if we better coordinated their care.

What do we mean by that? A study was done with 20,000 patients. They put a care coordinator on each one of them. These are chronically ill patients. And what they found was by coordinating their care -- and the first thing they did, by the way, was go into their kitchen tables, sit down, get out all their prescription drugs.

On average, they found they were taking 16. They found that by looking at them, they could eliminate eight. The result was hundreds of thousands of dollars of saving per patient and better health care outcomes.

You know, I did this with my own -- my own father-in-law in his final illness. Went to his kitchen table. Didn't know it was the final illness. Got out all his prescription drugs. Sure enough, he was taking 16.

I get on the phone to the doctor. I go down the list -- and Dr. Coburn, you were out of the room. I referenced you, because you said something that really triggered a thought in my mind that I think is important -- went down the list of what my father-in-law was taking, 16 prescription drugs. And I get in the line to the doctor, and he says, "Well, Kent" -- and I get down to about the third one -- "He shouldn't be taking that. He shouldn't have been taking that the last five years."

I get a little further down the list, two drugs, and he says, "Well, Kent, he shouldn't be taking those two drugs, they work against each other."

I said, "Doc, how does this happen?"

He said, "Kent, it's very simple. He's got a heart condition. He's got a serious lung condition. He's got orthopedic issues. He's got doctors for each one of those. He's getting prescription drugs mail order; he's getting them at the hospital pharmacy; he's getting them down at the beach. He's sick and confused. His wife's sick and confused. We've got chaos."

And my conclusion, after all of these hundreds of hours of hearings and meetings that Senator Grassley and Senator Baucus were part of and Senator Enzi was that indeed we do. We have a system that is characterized, especially for those people, by chaos. We can do better.

And we really don't have a choice, because we've got a debt now grossed at 100 percent of the GDP, headed for 400 percent, that nobody believes is sustainable.

So I -- I just pray that we find a way to come together and deal with these things seriously, because if we don't, we will rue the day.


OBAMA: If I might, I want to make sure that we're balancing off the time between Democrats and Republicans.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. President?

(UNKNOWN): Oh, I'm sorry.

OBAMA: And House and Senate.


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