Thank you for contacting me to express your opinions on the health care crisis in our country and on health care reform legislation. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter. Reforming our country's health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance is a top priority. Today, the United States spends more on health care than other developed countries, yet we have a shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality. Health care spending represents nearly 17 percent of our economy, totaling over $2 trillion a year. Still, approximately 87 million people-one in three Americans-went without health insurance for some period during 2007 and 2008. This is unacceptable. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am working to enact comprehensive health care reform that improves the access and delivery of health care for millions of Americans.
According to researchers, about $700 billion is spent each year on health care that fails to improve outcomes. I believe we should eliminate this excess spending and transform how we pay for health services. Payments should be based on the quality of care delivered instead the quantity of services performed. We need to reward providers who coordinate care and improve health outcomes. New investments must be made in our health care workforce to meet the needs of a fully insured population. Through better access to providers as well as prevention and wellness programs, individuals will be able to lead healthier lifestyles, reduce the likelihood of chronic disease and reduce costs. Health reform should also include better access to home and community-based services for those needing long-term care.
The Massachusetts experience with health reform holds valuable lessons for federal reform. Our state has the lowest number of uninsured in the nation due to reform efforts that included: expanded public programs; the development of new insurance standards; subsidized insurance to those with low income, the creation of an insurance exchange for private plans; maintaining safety net hospitals and health centers; and a requirement that individuals and employers each have a responsibility to contribute to health care costs.
Too many individuals cannot afford insurance as health insurance premiums continue to rise faster than inflation and wages. We must control skyrocketing health costs that push families into bankruptcy and place our businesses at a disadvantage in the global economy. Families deserve affordable options when choosing a health plan, which is why I support a public plan option like the one included in the bill passed out of Senator Kennedy's HELP Committee. Under that plan, all Senators and their staff would be required to use the public option as their health insurance. Every American has the right to high quality and affordable health care, regardless of age, income or health status. That is why I recently introduced the Women's Health Insurance Fairness Act to prevent insurers from charging women higher premiums than men for health insurance policies.
As a strong supporter of improving health insurance coverage to children, I introduced Kids First, a bill that would guarantee health coverage to the currently nine million uninsured children in America. In these uncertain economic times, families should never be forced to forgo health insurance for their children. I also supported improvements to the Children's Health Insurance Program, which became law in February 2009. This new public law will strengthen and expand health coverage to an additional four million children, nearly halving the number of uninsured children over the next five years. This new law included legislation that I wrote, the Children's Mental Health Parity Act, which will ensure that children served by this program will also have access to critical mental health services.
A modernized health system must take full advantage of electronic prescribing and health information technology. Electronic prescribing not only saves money through improved efficiency, but more importantly, it reduces medical errors and saves lives. According to the Institute of Medicine, one-third of written prescriptions require follow-up clarification, with medication mistakes causing 7,000 deaths and 1.5 million injuries per year. The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act that was enacted into law in July 2008, included provisions from my electronic prescribing legislation. This law creates incentives for physicians to implement electronic prescribing within their offices.
While I strongly believe there are many things that need to be changed within our current health care system, it is equally important to preserve the parts of our system that work. As we move to make health insurance more affordable, those who are satisfied with their current insurance should be able to keep what they have. The issue of health reform has been the center of many debates and conversations across the country. I support a transparent process that involves the public and provides open access to the facts regarding reform efforts.
As we continue to move forward with health reform I will keep your thoughts and concerns in mind. Thank you again for writing me. Please do not hesitate to contact me about this issue or any other matter of importance to you.