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Public Statements

John Kerry Fights to Protect Medicaid Benefits in Massachusetts and the Nation

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


John Kerry Fights to Protect Medicaid Benefits in Massachusetts and the Nation

In a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee today Senator Kerry fought for the protection of Medicaid benefits.

Senator Kerry was fighting to protect Medicaid benefits for the neediest citizens today at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in the face of Republican cuts.

Senator Kerry said, "Medicaid is the crown jewel of the safety net. It is the nation's largest health care program - providing health and long-term care services to 53 million low-income pregnant women, children, individuals with disabilities, and seniors. Medicaid serves those for whom, if the program did not exist, they would not receive care anywhere else."

Senator Kerry went on to say, "Under the Bush economy, this program has grown more vital than ever. Medicaid costs and enrollment figures have grown because the economy's recession has created such a demand for its services. People who once had jobs with health coverage are either losing their jobs or losing their health benefits and Medicaid is the backstop to ensure that those in greatest need are not simply added to our uninsured rolls - a figure that already stands at 45 million Americans and is a mark of shame on this great nation. Health care should be a right, not a privilege."

Below is the text of Senator Kerry's statement.

"Thank you, Chairman Grassley, for calling this important hearing and for allowing a balanced panel of witnesses to come before us today. I am anxious to dialogue with these experts on ways for us to strengthen the Medicaid program.

Medicaid is the crown jewel of the safety net. It is the nation's largest health care program - providing health and long-term care services to 53 million low-income pregnant women, children, individuals with disabilities, and seniors. Medicaid serves those for whom, if the program did not exist, they would not receive care anywhere else. It is called a safety net because it serves the poor and vulnerable and we have a special obligation to strengthen and protect it.

Under the Bush economy, this program has grown more vital than ever. Medicaid costs and enrollment figures have grown because the economy's recession has created such a demand for its services. People who once had jobs with health coverage are either losing their jobs or losing their health benefits and Medicaid is the backstop to ensure that those in greatest need are not simply added to our uninsured rolls - a figure that already stands at 45 million Americans and is a mark of shame on this great nation. Health care should be a right, not a privilege.

It is inconceivable to me that the United States Congress continues to exercise budget restraint not by saying no to large tax cuts for the wealthy, but by going after programs like Medicaid to find budget savings. Trimming the fat from government programs is one thing - but for a program already as lean as Medicaid, this results in scraping at the bones. Real lives are harmed by the decisions we make.

We can sit here and have an intellectual discussion about how changing or "reforming" the program can produce this or that amount of savings, but when it comes down to it, the question we really must ask is who we are hurting by our decisions - because every dollar taken out of this program, whether it be $10 billion or even a million, results in fewer services for someone in need.

I was reminded in church by this Sunday's readings the reasons why we have an obligation to the vulnerable in society. In the 10th chapter of Matthew's gospel we are told, "Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give." My priest cautioned us that our talents, our wealth, our achievements are nothing we have earned - they are all from God's graces - and we should therefore freely give of those graces to others. But when it comes to programs like Medicaid, we are very stingy givers.

I think we are missing the mark in our discussions today. While I do not disagree that some of the suggested reforms should be considered and perhaps even implemented to improve the workings of the program, the idea of making changes just to hit budget savings targets is all wrong.

I believe we should instead be having a discussion about the need to right-size the federal-state partnership under Medicaid. The federal government should give more and expect more.

We could cover every one of the nation's 11 million uninsured children AND give states needed fiscal relief if we got creative with our policies.

I have proposed legislation called, "KidsFirst," which would federalize all Medicaid costs for beneficiaries under age 21 that are below poverty. In exchange, states agree to expand their health programs for children in higher income families and reduce the barriers to enrollment that keep so many of our eligible children unenrolled.

The result? Universal coverage for children and additional resources for states to address other health care needs. This compact would provide states with an estimated $6 billion annually more than what they are required to spend in their expansion programs.

More than 700,000 Americans have signed a citizens' petition in support of the KidsFirst bill; another 20,000 phoned in and recorded their personal stories on why this legislation is so crucial; and it has gained the endorsement of leading health and children's organizations that represent more than 20 million Americans nationwide.

If we cannot find the common ground for bipartisan agreement to cover all of our children with good health care, we are really failing as a nation.

I look forward to the day when we return to making decisions in this Capital that reflect forward-thinking, progressive policies that improve the lives of millions of Americans.

Thank you again, Chairman Grassley, for gathering us here today for this discussion and I welcome the opportunity to continue this dialogue after our witnesses give their testimony."

http://kerry.senate.gov/v3/cfm/record.cfm?id=238963

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