Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Mark Warner’s address to the Grow Smart Business Conference

Senator Warner began by saying “It is OK to leave your cell phones on, to me it sounds like money,” to appreciative laughter. Warner said his work at Nextel and Columbia Capital gave him some perspective on financial and business matters.

He began to describe where he thought the economy was at. Warner said we needed some financial re-regulation. He described himself as a new senator who “just got hired,” and that it had been a wild nine months. He characterized the recent actions of the federal government as extraordinary, and that few appreciated how close we came to a complete financial meltdown. Ugly and blunt instruments had halted a world wide recession. Warner said that never again should Americans hear too big to fail. While the stimulus was necessary, Warner said that it had been “mis-marketed.” On third of the stimulus is tax cuts, one third relief for the states and the remaining third is spending that offers a lot of opportunities, especially for small business.

Warner pointed out that while Virginia is one of the few remaining states with AAA bond rating; without the relief from the recent stimulus package Virginia’s finances would look like California. The economy is that bad.

Warner explained that the spending part of the stimulus consisted of grants and other incentives for smart grid, build out of broadband, high speed rail, and health care IT. He said that he was “disturbed” that the administration has not been faster in getting those dollars out.

Continuing to speak about the economy, Warner said that we had avoided complete disaster; but that we were not out of the woods. He repeated his earlier assertion that we need financial re-regulation; he did not appreciate how much excess and abuse there had been in the financial sector until the recent hearings before senate banking committee. While a fan of free market capitalism, Warner said that we need rules.

He said that small business faces tough times to get financing and that he would welcome ideas as to how to rebuild small business financing. He said that 89% job growth will come from small businesses if they can get financing.

Here, Warner began to talk about health care and said that both from a moral and economic view, “we have to get it done.” He predicted that without reform our health care system will collapse.

He jokingly described a town meeting in Fredericksburg, Virginia with “1800 of my closest friends.” He said that he had told the town meeting attendees, “You know Medicare if a government problem,” only to hear “NO it is not!” The senator lamented that you “can’t make progress with people like that.”

He said that we have to decrease out federal deficit; and that, “I hope that we can find a private market solution” to our health care problem. He expressed hope for a bipartisan solution but that he was a “little disappointed with colleagues on the other side” and that even in the absence of bipartisan support, “We still have to act.” .

The senator began to talk about health care IT, observing that technology has revolutionized every industry except health care. He said that the federal government needs to establish standards, going on the observe that federal standards had made the cell phone industry possible and that we needed federal standards for health care IT.

He reminded the audience of the obvious, that we need more transparency in health care. List prices have no real relation to what people are paying. Warner said that we need wellness and prevention programs. Some very large employers have wellness programs. The senator said that we should take the best practice models and make them more available. He suggested that large businesses should be able to open up their plans to their suppliers.

Warner said that tort reform should be part of the health care reform mix.

He reminded the audience of his work for the Virginia Health Care Foundation. It is devoted to helping those who cannot afford insurance, but whose incomes are too high to qualify for any public assistance.

Warner said that it was “important to make system work”,
observing that too grand a package could be too expensive. He said that we needed to change financial incentives. Our present systems rewards hospitals with high readmission rate. He said that instead of fee for service we need to move to a health care system that rewards value.

Video of Warner’s remarks.

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