Ranking Member of Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Talks Healthcare Cost Containment and More in MedReview Boardroom
US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, the ranking member on the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform from Illinois’s 8th District, joined CEO and President Joseph Stamm, his wife Anne, and key staff for a luncheon and talk in NYCHSRO/MedReview’s boardroom on Monday, March 12. A first-term representative from suburban Chicago and a former Special Assistant Attorney General and Deputy Treasurer for his home state, he is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He is also a first-generation American, whose parents emigrated from India, and one of only four Hindus currently serving in the House of Representatives.
The Congressman opened his remarks by recounting the story of his son’s response last year when he told him he had been “sworn into office.” “What bad words did you have to say?” the eight year old asked him. When the laughter subsided, Representative Krishnamoorthi told the room, “I did not come here to say bad words, but good words—and what I am doing going forward.”
The topics of conversation centered on two key concerns of CEO Stamm, the first being American healthcare and healthcare reform, and the second, the rising recurrence here and abroad of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish sentiment regarding the State of Israel.
As the top Democrat on his congressional committee and its Subcommittee on Healthcare and Financial Services, Rep. Krishnamoorthi spoke in depth of his dedication to lowering consumer healthcare costs and his policy platform, which focuses on growing and strengthening the middle class by supporting small business, making college more affordable, rebuilding infrastructure, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. He noted that his wife is an anesthesiologist and mother of three, a fact that brings directly home to the Krishnamoorthis the subject of rising costs of medical care, pharmaceuticals, and insurance.
Mr. Stamm and his executives at the board table raised questions germane to their professional and personal lives, including the issues of cuts to Medicare and the refusal by many New York doctors to accept Medicare at all. Board Member Richard J. Bonforte, MD, FAAP, observed that a good first step would be to get rid of the word “entitlement” regarding Medicare. These are “earned benefits, not freebees or handouts,” he stated. Noting that Medicare payments are monies people have put aside for themselves through payroll deductions, Dr. Bonforte pointed out that we “even pay taxes on the income.”
Acknowledging the many Americans whose parents are on Social Security and Medicare after a lifetime of work, Krishnamoorthi called the question deeply personal. “The benefits should be there for you,” he stated unequivocally. “Can there be some reform? Yes. But we shouldn’t change the system all of a sudden for people nearing retirement age.”
Remarking on the rate of doctors dropping out of the Medicare system altogether, the Congressman talked about the good news and bad news. On the one hand, large hospitals are “gobbling up” communities and the doctors in them, and then requiring these physicians to take all insurances accepted by the hospital. On the other hand, reminding the group that his wife is a doctor, the Congressman conceded reflectively, “We’d have to raise the rate in Medicare payment to incentivize them, and the mood in DC is not there now.”
Noting another way rising healthcare costs impact MedReview and its clients, SVP of Operations Spencer Young spoke of the growing problem of outrageous bills to patients for services allegedly rendered during hospital stays. He gave the example of a hospital charge we reviewed of $8000 daily for an “invasive procedure” to the eye when all they had done was administer Visine drops on a preexisting prescription. “We see it here every day,” declared Young.
Rep. Krishnamoorthi was duly amazed. “When I talk to participants in the healthcare system, they point fingers at everyone else—hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, patients—they are all part of the mix.” With a tone of resignation to current political realities, he said everyone “will have to sacrifice a little to bend the curve of costs.” The good news, he added, is that the issue is bipartisan in nature. “Universally, people are upset about rising costs.”
Calling the issue of prescription drug pricing “one of the most difficult,” he discussed the ways his committee is addressing these costs. Among other things, he is working with Congressman Jim Jordan (R-IL) on changing restrictive practices by pharmaceutical companies to prevent the sale of generic drugs. “Even though we negotiate prices with manufacturers, they are still too high. We clearly pay much more than any other country for the same drugs,” he said. “We are subsidizing their discount. The USA subsidizes R&D in pharma. We should allow importing of pharmaceuticals from other countries,” he declared. “I am going to do all I can to erase barriers to generics.”
MedReview’s chief raised the topic of Obamacare and “the many good things about it” such as coverage for preexisting conditions and unmarried children. Noting the steep and continuing drop in the number of healthcare exchanges, CEO Stamm asked, “Is there any movement between the two parties to deal with this?”
“We need a joint solution to stabilize the markets,” the Congressman replied. “Mitch McConnell promised a vote and we are awaiting it. We haven’t seen the fruit of the promises.” Speaking of his colleagues across the aisle in the Republican-led Congress, Krishnamoorthi added, “They have vowed to kill Obamacare. Voting itself is a long term issue,” he said in reference to Speaker Ryan’s consistent refusal to call a vote without a majority of his caucus. “We need to change the voting system from a majority of the ‘majority’ to a majority of the vote,” Krishnamoorthi declared.
The boardroom conversation also addressed concerns related to Israel. In fact, Rep. Krishnamoorthi was at the MedReview offices at the invitation of Ezra Friedlander of The Friedlander Foundation, which is seeking bipartisan support to award Anwar Sadat, the late Egyptian president and Mideast peacemaker, with the Congressional Gold Medal. Mr. Stamm co-chairs this effort. The Congressman gave his views not only on Israel but also on the rising tide of anti-Israel sentiment and, concomitantly, antisemitism here and abroad. Noting that he has visited Israel on a mission with the American Jewish Congress, he stated, “I will continue to be a strong supporter of Israel…and hope we can keep this country’s special relationship to Israel outside of politics.”
Adding that his children attend school at the local JCC because “it is the best in the area,” the Congressman said the school has received threats along with Latinos in the community. Referring to the “rise in a lot of isms right now” and the “pro-Zionist but antisemitic” trend in Congress, he also said, “I’ll call a spade a spade. There are certain elements in the highest levels of government that trade in this type of antisemitism. In my humble opinion, we have to combat antisemitism wherever it rises its ugly head, whether on the left or far right.”
“I am one of the strongest supporters of Israel in Congress,” he asserted. In a moment of levity, he added that when his boys come home from school on Friday evening, they call out Shabbat Shalom, hey!—the Hebrew greeting for a good Sabbath followed by the traditional exclamation celebrating Hindu festivals.