In letter, Tester calls for bipartisan approach to health care fix

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, in Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester on Thursday said he is offering to work with both Republicans and Democrats to lower health care costs as the Senate begins scheduling committee hearings to explore the issue.

In a letter to health committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Tester called for a transparent and bipartisan effort to lower costs and expand access in rural states.

“Health care is an issue that accounts for one-sixth of our nation’s economy, and that touches the lives of every person,” Tester wrote in Thursday’s letter. “Republicans, Democrats and Independents should be working together in the light of day on something this big, and the hearings you recently announced are a positive step in this direction.”

In the coming weeks, Tester said, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold hearings and write legislation in an effort to improve the nation’s health care system. The first hearings are scheduled for the opening week of September.

Tester said he has offered to share the input he received during several town halls held in Montana.

“I have traveled around Montana and held numerous face-to-face listening sessions and town halls specifically to hear concerns about health care,” Tester said. “At every meeting, Montanans emphasized the need to lower premiums and deductibles to get a handle on prescription drug costs, and to keep rural clinics and hospitals open and operating.”

At the height of the latest health care debate in June, Tester took to the Senate floor to ask his colleagues to work in a transparent and bipartisan manner. He also criticized a small group of Republicans for “scheming a secret, controversial undoing of the nation’s health care system.”

Several Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed shortly after, as did GOP attempts to replace it with a new health care system. Senate leadership has since agreed to start from scratch in a more inclusive process.

“Transparency and collaboration is the right way to do it, and I applaud your willingness to work in this way,” Tester wrote in his letter. “I am happy to lend my efforts.”