Senator Tom Harkin is urging President Obama to start emphasizing the savings that can be achieved in health care reform by promoting healthier lifestyles that help prevent diseases.
"For some reason, I don’t hear (Obama) saying it that much anymore and I’m imploring the people around him at the White House that he’s got to start talking about this," Harkin says. "People want to be healthy. They don’t want to go to the hospital."
Harkin, a Democrat, says there are "tens of billions" of dollars in savings that are not being considered in widely-touted Congressional Budget Office calculations of the cost of the health care reform package.
"Now in the bill we passed in the (Senate) Health Committee last week, we will require insurance companies to reimburse for that nutrition counseling for pre-diabetic individuals. Now, how does C.B.O. ‘score" this?" Harkin asks. "It scores the cost of the counseling, but refuses to score any savings from preventing a lifetime of diabetes and its devastating consequences."
Harkin suggests private sector companies have achieved "huge savings" in health care costs by promoting wellness among employees and paying for things like nutritional counseling and exercise club dues, moves that help prevent the onset of diabetes, heart disease and other serious conditions.
"I’ve told the White House this, too. Look at what Pitney Bowes did — Pitney Bowes, a huge company, hundreds of thousands of employees…Through their own internal prevention programs, they were able to reduce treatment costs for diabetic employees by 17 percent," Harkin says. "They reduced the treatment for asthma by 18 percent. They reduced emergency room use by 30 percent, reduced hospitalizations by 38 percent and disability costs by 50 percent."
Harkin is also expressing frustration with fellow Democrat Max Baucus, the senator who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
"Last fall, the American people voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama to lead this country and he specifically talked about changing the health care system. They also voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the House and the Senate to provide leadership," Harkin says. "Well, to provide leadership means that you propose."
Iowa’s other U.S. Senator — Republican Chuck Grassley — is among the bipartisan group of Senate Finance Committee members who’ve been meeting behind closed-doors, trying to hammer out a deal, but Harkin suggests it’s time for the whole committee to start meeting in public so it can take final action on a bill.
"The finance committee in the senate is dragging its heels," Harkin says. "…I can tell you, there are a lot of frustrated people here in the senate."
Harkin made his comments this morning during a telephone conference call with Iowa radio reporters. In response to a question posed by a reporter, Harkin accused "opponents of health care reform" of "instigating "fear" among the American people.
"A lot of your right-wing and your conservative bloggers and people out there are talking all about socialism and ‘You’re going to lose your doctor’ and ‘You’re going to have a government bureaucrat,’ and on and on and on," Harkin said. "So there are people out there who want the status quo, who really don’t want to change…But I think the American people know that the status quo is not acceptable and that it will take some time, you know, to get the truth out."
Harkin, by the way, said he was "tied up" last night and did not watch the president’s "prime time" news conference which was devoted almost entirely to the issue of health care reform.