07.31.13

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Delivers Senate Floor Speech on Containing Health Care Costs

Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin delivered remarks on the floor of the United States Senate last night where she focused on the need to continue building upon the reforms in the Affordable Care Act to lower health care costs by rewarding quality coverage instead of the quantity of coverage. These efforts are producing impressive results in Wisconsin which Baldwin highlighted in her floor speech. In particular, she shared reforms embraced by the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin; Marshfield Clinic; Bellin-ThedaCare in Green Bay; and Wheaton Franciscan, Aurora, and the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee; that are currently improving value for patients. She also pointed to future reforms pioneered by the Wisconsin Health Information Organization and Wisconsin Medical Society that will lower costs and improve quality.
 
“By building on the best reforms to our health care delivery system in the Affordable Care Act and making new improvements to how we deliver care in this country, we will lower health care costs, improve quality, strengthen our economic security, and reduce the deficit. Better yet, we will have more states with health care systems like Wisconsin’s—and Wisconsin’s system will be improved as well,” Baldwin said, “The possibilities are exciting. There is widespread agreement that significant savings can be achieved in our health care system without compromising the quality of care.”
 
The Lewin Group and former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill have estimated that we could save $1 trillion per year without affecting health care outcomes by enacting smart, targeted health care delivery reforms.
 
Baldwin has long been an advocate of reforming the way health care is delivered in an effort to lower health care costs without compromising health care quality. Yesterday, she participated in a Senate Budget Committee hearing on health care cost containment where she highlighted the need for bipartisan cooperation as the Affordable Care Act is implemented. The hearing focused on recent progress and the remaining challenges to lowering health care costs.

Watch Baldwin’s speech here.

Below, full remarks as prepared for delivery.

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The motto of my home state of Wisconsin is one word: “Forward.” Throughout our state’s history, that motto has rung true in our leadership in extending high-quality, affordable health care.  

Our health care providers and payers have pioneered forward-looking reforms that improve the quality of care and lower costs for families and businesses. We are home to world-class, highly-integrated health care systems. We make quality and outcomes data widely accessible so providers can measure their success against their peers. And we stand at the forefront of using and advancing health information technology. All of this affords some of the highest-quality care in the country, at a competitive cost.

Congress has a lot to learn from Wisconsin’s health care system. A recent Institute of Medicine report reinforced what we have known for a long time: that geographic variation in health care spending and utilization is real; and that variations in health care spending are not consistently related to health care quality. For every Wisconsin with higher quality outcomes and lower cost, there are five other states faring worse. Even within states, the regional variation in health care spending and quality is troublesome.

Unfortunately, instead of advancing and fostering forward-thinking innovations like those working in Wisconsin, far too many lawmakers are looking backward when it comes to health care. It’s the movie ‘Groundhog Day’ in the House of Representatives where Republican leadership has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act almost 40 times. Some state governments—including my own—have refused to move forward with the health care law and are undermining its effectiveness at every chance possible. Now some of my colleagues in the Senate are threatening to shut down the federal government if investments in our health care system are not stripped out of the budget entirely.

Families and businesses in Wisconsin and across the country are tired of political games. For as long as my colleagues and governor remain glued to the past—waging political fights based on pure ideology—we lose golden opportunities to move health care in our country forward.  We all should be focused on building a smarter, more affordable health care system, not trying to tear down the law of the land.

That is why I’m proud to stand on the floor with colleagues committed to moving our nation’s health care system forward. By building on the best reforms to our health care delivery system in the Affordable Care Act and making new improvements to how we deliver care in this country, we will lower health care costs, improve quality, strengthen our economic security, and reduce the deficit. Better yet, we will have more states with health care systems like Wisconsin’s—and Wisconsin’s system will be improved as well.

The possibilities are exciting. (As Senator Whitehouse mentioned,) there is widespread agreement that significant savings can be achieved in our health care system without compromising the quality of care. These figures bear repeating. The Lewin Group and former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill have estimated that we could save 1 trillion dollars per year without affecting health care outcomes by enacting smart, targeted health care delivery reforms. The New England Healthcare Institute pegged that number at 850 billion dollars annually; the Institute of Medicine estimated this number to be 750 billion; and the President’s Council of Economic Advisors foresees savings at 700 billion a year. No matter the exact figure, these are impressive savings that would strengthen our nation.

The Affordable Care Act has begun this hard work of transforming health care delivery.  The law provides health care practitioners with incentives to better integrate care, increase quality, and lower cost. These efforts are producing impressive results in Wisconsin. For example, the Pioneer Accountable Care Organization Program has offered financial incentives to meet quality and Medicare savings benchmarks. Bellin-Thedacare Healthcare Partners in Northeast Wisconsin has excelled with this program. In its first year of participation, Bellin-ThedaCare earned 5.3 million dollars in shared savings, and lowered costs for its 20,000 Medicare patients by an average of 4.6 percent. While not every Pioneer ACO has been as successful, the CMS Office of the Actuary believes that the program could save Medicare up to 1.1 billion dollars over five years by better coordinating care.

Wisconsin boasts six additional health care providers participating in the health law’s traditional ACO program, which the Department of Health and Human Services estimates could save up to 940 million dollars over four years.  

Wisconsin health care providers are also taking part in the Affordable Care Act’s Partnership for Patients to improve health care quality. This public-private partnership engages hospitals, businesses, and consumer groups with the goal of preventing injuries and complications in patient care—including hospital-acquired conditions. The Administration estimates that reducing medical errors and preventing conditions will save up to 35 billion dollars in health care costs.

Another public-private partnership—the Affordable Care Act’s Million Hearts Initiative—is preventing heart attack and stroke. Cardiovascular disease costs our country 444 billion dollars per year in medical costs and lost productivity. The Initiative seeks to deliver better preventive care to stop one million strokes and heart attacks by 2017—in part by utilizing innovative technology. Wisconsin’s own Marshfield Clinic designed a winning mobile application for the initiative. The app will encourage patients to get their blood pressure and cholesterol checked and to work with their health care providers to improve their heart health.

Finally, the Affordable Care Act has freed the CMS Innovation Center to develop new ideas to improve health care quality and lower costs for people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. A number of the Center’s projects are currently underway in Wisconsin. For example, the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Aurora Healthcare, and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare have created a model to decrease emergency room visits for children. The estimated 3-year savings of that project is almost 3 million dollars. In addition, the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin is using the Affordable Care to better integrate pharmacists into clinical care teams. That initiative is set to save over 20 million dollars in three years.

This represents just a small sampling of the delivery innovations being promoted through the Affordable Care Act that are saving us money right now. These parts of the law are empowering Wisconsin health care providers to provide higher-quality care at reduced costs.  Public officials who advocate for repealing the Affordable Care Act want to remove these impressive initiatives as well.  Instead, we must build on these delivery reforms, as much more can be done.

To name two priorities: Wisconsin cardiologists have developed an innovative, integrated network called SMARTCare to deliver better, more efficient care for a vulnerable patient population. The Department of Health and Human Services should encourage this coordinated care model by investing in it and measuring results. 

And we should improve the law to increase access to Medicare claims data. The Wisconsin Health Information Organization currently holds over 65 percent of health insurance claims data in the state—from private insurers and Medicaid. The Organization shares that data with health care providers so that doctors can compare their performance—in terms of quality and cost—against their peers. This data-sharing promotes competition and lowers cost. But due to current law, the Organization cannot access Medicare data. If we open up Medicare claims data, we will further improve quality and lower costs.

Lawmakers have a clear choice: Face backward and try for the 40th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act; or put progress for our country ahead of politics.  We welcome our colleagues to join us in moving our country—and health care system—forward.