Sen. Mark Warner on Tuesday hit all the prescribed notes when talking with Roanoke-area health care, community and business leaders about fixing the Affordable Care Act, reining in escalating drug prices and halting surprise billing.
But when he was given the signal to wrap it up, Warner, D-Va., dropped two ideas that moved beyond the current political dialogue: designing a benefits system that attaches to a person, not a job, and creating tax credits that reward businesses that invest in workers.
“Let’s fix the Affordable Care Act and improve it, but we are in a time in our country and the economy that the old 20th-century notion that you get out of school and you go to work, and work at the same company for 35 years for your whole career — that world is gone,” he said. “My kids are going to have 10 different jobs before they are 35.”
Warner told the gathering hosted by Carilion Clinic that a third of the workforce does not have benefits, and that the country needs a new social contract, or social insurance, in which workers pay into a bucket of benefits that travels with them to cover health insurance, unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation.
“I would argue every dollar that a person makes ... 2 cents, 5 cents, 20 cents — I’m not sure what the right number is — ought to be set aside in a benefits bucket that would travel with you, attach with you and be portable,” he said.
Warner said the bucket could be managed by the government, private sector or workers’ unions and would protect workers during economic downturns.
“I would couple it with a dramatic change in our tax code to incentivize businesses to invest in human beings and treat investments in human beings the same way we treat investments in research and development,” he said. “Right now we view investments in human beings as a cost. I think long term, that is a disaster, particularly in a world where all jobs are going to be vulnerable to artificial intelligence.”
Warner also toured the neonatal intensive care unit and watched heart surgery at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital before meeting with local leaders.
He said that he favors making changes to the Affordable Care Act that would ease some of its bureaucracy, but that he would not support so-called skinny insurance plans that do not cover the required essential benefits and are selective about who can be insured.
“I think they are deceptive. I think they should be prohibited,” he said, as people may think they have coverage and find out they don’t.
Warner also said he thinks a remedy can be found for surprise billing, in which patients are admitted to a hospital in their insurer’s network but then are seen by a provider who is not, and who bills them beyond what their insurance pays.
Warner said his family received a $38,000 surprise bill.
“We’re fighting it,” he said. “We have the resources to fight it, but most families don’t have the resources of a United States senator. That’s just not fair, or right.”
He said while there is bipartisan agreement that it needs fixed, there remains disagreement among health care providers and insurers as to how.