Murkowski Opposes Health Care Reconciliation Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today issued the following statement after the Senate passed a companion reconciliation bill to the health care legislation President Obama signed into law earlier this week. Murkowski voted against the reconciliation bill which passed 56 - 43, with all Republicans, and three Democrats, opposing it.

"We are now on the way to spending $2.6 trillion on a health care bill signed into law earlier this week and a companion ‘reconciliation' measure approved today by the Senate. Although the emphasis this week has been on health care, the reconciliation bill also includes a government takeover of the student loan industry. The congressional majority made the decision to help pay for health care expansion on the backs of American college students and their families.

"College will cost more, not less, under the new federal student loan program. The current fixed interest rate of 5.6 percent for student loans was set to go down to 3.4 percent next year. But under the new law, rates will be variable and students will be charged up to 6.8 percent. As a result, approximately 8,200 Alaskans will pay an average of $2,210 more for their federal student loans to fund health care and other government programs.

"Even worse, the federal government will be making a profit on students and their families by borrowing capital at 2.8 percent and lending it at interest rates of up to 6.8 percent. And to add insult to injury, student loan customer service will decline. All questions about loans and repayment options will now be directed to just four nationwide call centers.

"When the health care debate began more than a year ago, all sides agreed that the primary goal of reform was to bring down the spiraling cost of medical expenses. But instead of containing costs, we've instead created a massive government expansion of the health care system with a price tag of $2.6 trillion. Who will pay for this expansion?

"America's seniors: The health care law cuts $529 billion from Medicare, at a time when the program is slated to go broke in seven years. These cuts also will occur as the baby boomer generation is reaching retirement age.

"Small businesses and American families: The new law calls for more than a half trillion dollars in tax increases. Individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning over $250,000 will be hit with a new 3.8 percent tax on certain investment income. This same group will also see its Medicare payroll taxes jump nearly a full percentage point. The wage thresholds for these tax hikes are not indexed for inflation, so over time more and more Alaskans will see their taxes go up. I offered an amendment that would index for inflation the wage thresholds for those subject to the tax increase, but it failed to pass. These tax increases will hit small businesses - particularly women-owned businesses which are expanding twice as fast as the number owned by men -- especially hard, serving as a disincentive to expand and create new jobs. This is the last thing we should be doing in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

"Wounded Warriors: The new law imposes a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices, such as wheelchairs and crutches, with no exceptions provided for America's veterans.

"States: By expanding Medicaid eligibility, states will have to spend billions of dollars more on their already over-burdened Medicaid programs. The Democratic governor of Tennessee, Phil Bredesen, has called this the ‘mother of all unfunded mandates.'

"Our children and grandchildren: The health care law is an impediment to future generations who will be forced to foot the bill. The U.S. simply cannot afford another huge entitlement program on top of the growing costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and the more than $12 trillion dollars of national debt we currently owe.

"Had we been truly interested in reigning in the escalating cost of health care, we would have focused on such things as creating incentives for health care providers to be reimbursed for the value of their services rather than reimbursements based on the volume of their services. The new law did nothing to alter the reimbursement system.

"As we move forward, I will be joining my colleagues in looking for ways to repeal the most egregious parts of the law - the tax hikes, Medicare cuts and increased premiums - and replace them with proposals that will reign in the spiraling costs of health care, such as junk lawsuit reforms and allowing insurers to sell across state lines. There are, however, reforms in this law that I strongly support, including removal of lifetime caps on insurance policies, a prohibition against denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions and access to wellness and preventive care services. These are important provisions that should be a part of our health care system.

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