U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts has seen the future of health care and finds it ominous. Crippling costs for American families. Rationing of medical care. Daunting regulations.
According to Roberts, these ills and more will become the scary reality unless he and his fellow Republicans and a few brave Democrats beat down health care reform.
And so this week, Roberts cast two robust "no" votes when the Senate Finance Committee voted on amendments calling for a public health insurance option. He's already stated he will oppose the entire compromise health care bill offered by Democratic committee Chairman Max Baucus.
This surprises no one. The senator from Kansas never strays far from the GOP fold. To be fair, most of his constituents don't want him to.
But I'm looking at Roberts' reasons for opposing the bill and I'm wondering: Where has he been all these years?
"Despite the rhetoric, the reality is this proposal passes billions of dollars of higher health care costs on to American families and individuals through higher taxes, euphemistically called 'fees,' on insurers, labs and medical device manufacturers," Roberts said recently.
It's true that the Baucus bill proposes fees that insurers and providers would undoubtedly pass on to consumers.
But the average health insurance premium for Kansas families nearly doubled from 2000 to 2009, rising from $6,237 to $12,397, according to Families USA, a research and advocacy group. Health costs increased four times as fast as earnings, and I don't recall an outcry from the senator.
Likewise, Roberts wants to prevent the government from researching which treatments work best and recommending cost-effective options.
He calls such research a step toward rationing. But in 2001 Roberts voted against a consumer protection bill that would have stopped insurers from instructing doctors not to tell patients about their full range of treatment options. Is that not rationing?
Roberts' objections — expressed elegantly in news releases and in Senate hearings — highlight a striking contradiction.
Like others, he is dead set against government-imposed costs and controls. Yet he seems perfectly OK with soaring costs and restrictions imposed by insurers.
The senator's proposed reforms — limiting malpractice lawsuits, income-based tax credits to buy insurance, fewer regulations on insurance companies — are boilerplate conservative solutions. They don't try to hold down rising costs or protect consumers in a profit-driven insurance marketplace.
"I hear from Kansans all the time who wonder why it is necessary to completely and radically change our system of health care in order to gain insurance coverage for a relatively small number of uninsured Americans," Roberts said.
I'm sure he does. I hear from those people too.
But is he listening to the people forced by medical debt into foreclosures and bankruptcies, even though they work and have health insurance?
Researchers for the Topeka-based Kansas Health Institute found that, over a four-year period, half a million insured Kansans decided to postpone or forgo medical treatment because of cost. Is Roberts hearing from them?
A week or so ago, the senator spoke in favor of an amendment that would have required the final language of the Baucus bill to be posted on the Internet for 72 hours before the committee could vote.
His reason? So "the people that the providers have hired to keep up with all of the legislation that we pass around here (read, lobbyists) could contact senators and say, 'Have you considered this?'"
Give the senator points for candor. It's pretty clear who has his ear.