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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Sen. Mark Warner on health care

Sen. Mark Warner made a lunchtime appearance last week at the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center.

Sen. Mark Warner focused on the nation’s debt and deficit last week when he spoke to employees at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center. But given the setting and the audience, Warner also talked a lot about health care.

Here’s a sampling of what he said:

On the health care reform bill, which he voted for: “It’s not as good as some of the advocates have said, nor is it as bad as some of the detractors have said.”

On the cost of health care: “The status quo in health care is going to bankrupt us. One of the largest drivers of our debt and deficit is our rising health care costs. We have to find a way to contain them. There are many other countries in the world that have life expectancies as great, if not greater, than ours with health care costs that are half ours.”

On malpractice reform: “I absolutely agree that we’ve got to have medical malpractice and tort reform. (Warner said he was one of three Democrats in the Senate to vote for it recently.) I think there are many medical professional who practice defensive medicine. But there are some medical professionals who use this as a reason to say I can create a whole series of new profit centers in my practice with additional testing and procedures.”

Sen. Mark Warner

On raising the retirement age: “Sixty-five was set as the retirement age originally by a guy named Bismark who was premier of Germany. He set 65 as the retirement age in the late 1870s because average life expectancy was in the mid-50s. It was an easy promise to make then. Even when Roosevelt started Social Security here in America in 1934, he set 65, and life expectancy was 62. Now because of the good work by folks like you, life expectancy is 80 and advancing. People are living longer, and the math just doesn’t work anymore.”

On end-of-life issues: “We need a serious discussion on end-of-life issues. With an ageing society and increasing medical technology, the idea of unlimited ability for the government to pay for everything without some evaluation of the medical efficacy is a cost that we can’t afford.”

On eliminating the fee-for-service model of care: “You can’t have a health care system that’s based on volume of tests, volume of procedures, volume of drugs, with an aging population. The idea that we can spend 16 to 20 percent of our GNP spent on health care, when every other industrial country in the world spends between 9 and 11 percent, you can’t raise taxes enough to pay for it.

Warner is the former Democratic governor of Virginia and has represented the state in the U.S. Senate for the last two years. He is also a former business executive, cofounder of Nextel, and he joked that he may be the only public speaker who asks his audience to leave their cell phones on. The sound of a phone ringing is, to him, the sound of money, he said.

(The story that appeared in the paper about Warner’s visit can be found here.)