Weekly Columns

The average American spends over $10,000 annually on health care expenses and experts expect that number to continue to rise. Combine that hefty price tag with the very personal nature of health care decisions, and you easily see why health care reform is a priority for millions of Americans.

There are a number of competing ideas on how to fix our broken health care system. Thankfully, the Medicare-For-All, more accurately described as Medicare-For-None, approach being pushed in the U.S. House of Representatives is not going anywhere in the Senate. Leader McConnell and my Republican colleagues understand that any plan that will force Americans to pay more to wait longer for inferior services is not a workable solution to our health care woes. 

Can a divided Congress with such divergent views on health care reform pass meaningful reforms in this climate? I believe we can. The key will be to focus on smaller, bipartisan pieces of legislation that will provide relief to families from rising health care costs, improve patient outcomes and ensure access to quality and affordable care.

To that end, I have introduced two bills that would be perfect places from which to start.

First, I joined with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to propose a solution to the physician shortage crisis our nation is facing. Our bill, the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act, would ease the arbitrary cap on the number of Medicare-funded graduate medical education (GME) positions imposed by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. 

The number of available physicians per population in the Natural State is among the lowest in the nation and providers of all specialties are facing a serious shortfall, especially in Arkansas’s rural communities. Lifting this antiquated cap on training slots for medical school graduates is a perfect example of a small reform that can make a big difference.

Similarly, another seemingly easy lift that would net positive returns would be to enable physician extenders to play a larger role in the process. That’s why I introduced legislation to enhance the role of radiology assistants (RAs). 

The Medicare Access to Radiology Care Act would enable radiologists to submit claims to Medicare for non-diagnostic services performed by RAs they directly supervise in both the hospital and office setting. It will ensure patients—particularly those in rural areas where health care options are fewer—have timely and quality access to services. 

I also have lent my support as a cosponsor to a number of bipartisan bills on which Congress should be able to find common ground. One, the Protect Act, reflects the stated intention of every member of Congress. It will ensure that health insurance coverage is available to Americans with pre-existing conditions without unreasonably high premiums or exclusions. We can also come together to reauthorize funding for community health centers, which serve a vital function of providing affordable health care to more than 27 million Americans, to ensure they remain operational. I have cosponsored a bipartisan bill to accomplish this goal. Finally, we can find consensus to repeal the 40 percent excise tax on certain employer-sponsored health insurance that is expected to impact half of employer-based health plans by 2025.

Reforms to our health care system require thorough and thoughtful debate. This is especially true for significant policy changes. While that discussion remains ongoing, we can advance commonsense reforms and move closer toward a system that ensures access to affordable, quality care for every American.