HEALTH INSURANCE MARKETPLACE MODERNIZATION AND AFFORDABILITY ACT OF 2006--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - May 09, 2006)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I ask the Chair to let me know when I have 1 minute remaining.
Mr. President, this should be a historic week. The Senate has the opportunity at last to have a debate on the basic questions of health care. Senator Enzi has put forward a proposal that deserves debate and the opportunity for amendment, and I commend him for his diligence in bringing forward his proposal. But after careful study and debate, I believe the Senate will conclude that the course laid out in this proposal is the wrong one for health care.
The legislation will make health care coverage less affordable and less accessible for millions of Americans. It will raise premiums for Americans when they are older or when they fall ill. It will mean the end of laws to guarantee coverage for cancer, for diabetes, for mental health parity, and other essential services. It will undermine the laws that protect consumers from fraud and abuse, and it will give no real help to the self-employed.
We have a better approach. The proposal offered by Senators DURBIN and LINCOLN will allow small businesses to band together to get the same low rates offered to larger employers. It provides real help for small businesses with the high costs of health care through tax credits and reinsurance programs to defray the cost of the most expensive claims.
When our debate concludes, I believe the Senate will agree with the over 200 organizations that have written letters of opposition to this legislation. These organizations represent patients with diabetes and cancer and mental health needs. They represent older Americans, workers, health care professionals, small businesses, and Americans in all walks of life. They represent the over 15,000 Americans who have called the Senate to ask this body to oppose legislation that will take a step backward from our commitment to quality health care, and they represent the millions more who will be harmed if we do not reject the legislation before us.
We have heard from Governors, insurance commissioners, and attorneys general from Maine to Hawaii and from Florida to Alaska, and all of them--all of them--have urged the Senate to reject this bill.
I urge my colleagues to oppose the current legislation, but I hope they will vote to proceed to consideration of this bill. The Senate has been denied the chance to take action on major health priorities for too long. Next week, seniors will be forced to pay a steep penalty if they are unable to navigate through the tangle of confusing Medicare plans and options. The Senate ought to vote on Senator Nelson's proposal to let seniors make their choice without the threat of heavy fines if they do not meet this arbitrary deadline.
The Republican Medicare law also includes a provision so contrary to commonsense that people hardly believe you when you tell them it was included. The legislation makes it illegal for Medicare to bargain for discounts on drugs for seniors. We have a proposal to end that shameful prohibition, and we should vote on that proposal.
On Medicaid, we should take action to end the cruel cuts imposed on the poorest of our fellow citizens by the Deficit Reduction Act, which paid for tax cuts for the wealthy through health cuts for the poor.
We have been promised and promised that the Senate would vote on drug importation, but the vote never comes. Senator Dorgan, Senator Snowe, Senator McCain, and I have a proposal that will allow safe importation of lower cost medicines from Canada and elsewhere. Surely, Health Week is the time for a vote.
Before the week is out, the Senate should see that the promise of stem cell research--stem cell research--is no longer denied to the millions of patients and their families who look on with anger and bewilderment as the bill passed by the House languishes for month after month after month in the Senate. And we have failed year in and year out to fulfill the promise of this century of the life sciences by making quality care a right for every American. Let us at long last take action to extend quality care to every American.
So I say to my colleagues: Vote for cloture on this motion. Vote for a health care debate. Vote for a chance to go on record with your answer to these important questions on Medicare, on Medicaid, on stem cell research, on drug importation, on coverage, and on many other health priorities. Let's have a debate, and let's let the Senate decide where it stands.
Mr. President, I reserve the remainder of my time.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I will mention at this time some of the organizations. We will have a chance during the course of the debate to get into the reasons why. The American Academy of Pediatrics; the American Cancer Society; the Diabetes Association; the Nurses Association; Families USA; the lists of Governors--and I will include those--more than probably 15, 18 Governors; the attorneys general. I think there are probably close to 40 of the attorneys general representing States North, South, East, and West who have opposed this bill. The Insurance Commissioners of the States--a whole list of those. At the appropriate time, I will include those in the RECORD.
I hope our colleagues will put their ear to the ground and find out what people are saying back home, what your cancer society, diabetes, pediatric nurses and doctors are saying about this, what the attorneys general are saying about this, and what those in the medical profession are saying about this. We think we have a better way to help small business, and during the course of the debate, we will show how that can be done.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I thank the chairman of our committee, Senator Enzi, for his diligence in the development of the legislation. It is legislation that I cannot support. But the chairman of our committee has put his finger on an area of health policy, which is enormously important for us to consider, and that is the general kind of challenge that is out there for small businesses in this country. By and large, they pay two or three times higher premiums than many of the very large businesses in their States, and they are also seeing a turmoil in the market.
More often than not, they are changing companies every year, or every other year, and increasing numbers of those small businesses have to drop coverage. This is a real problem.
If the proposal that is before us, the Enzi bill, was only to deal with that particular issue, it ought to be given focus and attention and full debate and support. But his bill goes far beyond that. Fortunately, we have an alternative, as the closing remarks of my friend and colleague from Connecticut pointed out, in the Durbin and Lincoln legislation, which addresses the small business needs. It does it creatively and effectively, and it does it without threatening the health protections that are there for States. The message and word ought to go out to all those who support the Durbin-Lincoln proposal that workers in those small businesses will effectively have the same kind of health care coverage that we have in the Senate of the United States. That has been certainly a goal of mine for all Americans in the time I have been in the Senate, and it still is.
We have an opportunity for the small business community, and for the workers in those companies of 100 or less, to provide for them the same things that we have for the Members of the U.S. Congress and Senate. That statement cannot be made by the Senator from Wyoming. His bill does not do that. It has all kinds of adverse impacts in terms of workers and health care protections.
So as we start this debate, we ought to recognize that there is an alternative which we on this side strongly support which will focus and give attention to the small business community. The other proposal by Senator Enzi does not do that.
Mr. President, I am going to take a few minutes, because that is all I have, to review what I think are the most dangerous aspects of this legislation. The fact is, today, as has been pointed out, there are some 85 million Americans who have protections that will be effectively lost with the Enzi proposal. Those are protections for screening on cancer, for help and assistance in terms of diabetes, for medicines. There are different protections that are given to other diseases that are threatened, and it threatens American families. Those have been discussed in local communities and in States that are now providing those protections; and effectively, under the Enzi bill, those will be prohibited. There are a number of groups.
First of all, this is what the State insurance commissioners say, and why they are important is because they have a responsibility in terms of protecting consumers. This is what they have pointed out, Mr. President:
Standardizing the rating laws among States will do little or nothing to reduce health insurance costs.
S. 1955 will result in older and less healthy employees being priced out of the market as a result of expanding the rate bands.
Small New Jersey employers with older and sicker employees would see a dramatic rise and increase under the Federal approach, effectively driving them from the insurance market and leaving them vulnerable citizens without adequate health coverage.
They are talking about ratings. Insurance companies are going to be able to charge for the proposal that the Senator from Wyoming has talked about. They are going to have a flexibility of up to 26 percent difference--26 times the difference in terms of premiums. Do you understand that? If you are an older worker and have had sickness in your family, you will pay a rating that will be up through the roof.
That is not true in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, no matter how sick or young you are, you are still within a 3-point or 3 times rating increase. That has worked very effectively. That is something that every older worker, every family that has had some kind of health challenges ought to recognize--that they, under the Enzi bill, could well be priced out of the market.
This is what the attorneys general have said:
The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization And Affordability Act should be more appropriately labeled the Health Insurance Cost Escalation Act.
That was the attorney general from Minnesota.
The attorney general of New York said:
This legislation is not the answer here. It eliminates many of the protections that consumers enjoy, without addressing the underlying problem of cost containment.
They are also eliminating protections, as we have mentioned, for breast cancer and diabetes.
Another one by the attorneys general:
There are no legitimate grounds for exempting the type of insurance plan for State laws that provide essential safeguards for persons covered by insurance.
It is not just Democrats, but Democrats and Republicans; 41 out of the 50 attorneys general charged with protecting consumers are saying this bill doesn't get it.
Mr. President, this is very interesting by the New Hampshire Governor on S. 1955:
In 2003, New Hampshire passed a law establishing rating rules similar to those contemplated under S. 1955.
New Hampshire passed almost the identical bill that is now being considered in the Senate.
With the rules allowing insurance companies to discriminate against businesses with sick workers, or based on geography, this law sent small business health insurance costs skyrocketing across New Hampshire. Small business could not grow, could not hire new workers, and some considered ending their health insurance plans altogether.
They have done it. It is rare around here when you have a new proposal that you have had experience with--and the State of New Hampshire has it--and they ended up withdrawing that proposal.
Finally, we have the various patient groups. Here is the American Diabetes Association:
S. 1955 would result in millions of Americans with diabetes losing their guarantee of diabetes coverage.
The Cancer Society said:
Passage of this legislation would represent a retreat in this Nation's commitment to defeat cancer.
The National Partnership for Women and Families said:
Instead of making health care more affordable for those who need it most, S. 1955 would roll back the reforms adopted by many States to require fair pricing.
We look forward on this side to debating these issues--the Durbin-Lincoln proposal and the Enzi proposal--and we also look forward to debating stem cell research, the real Medicare alternative in the prescription drug debate, the ability of Medicare to be able to negotiate lower prices for our senior citizens, and drug importation.
If we are going to have a health care debate, let's make sure we are going to deal with many of the issues that people in our country want us to deal with.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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