HEALTH INSURANCE MARKETPLACE MODERNIZATION AND AFFORDABILITY ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - May 10, 2006)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, over the past year and a half, I have spent a few days every month holding townhall meetings around my home State of Illinois. I have now done almost 50 of these in cities and towns all over the State.
After I give a short presentation, I open the floor to questions from the audience. And without fail, one of the first questions asked at every townhall is about health care. Too many hard-working Americans can't afford their medical bills or health insurance premiums. Too many employers are finding it difficult to offer the coverage their employees need. And sadly, too many people in the world's wealthiest country have no insurance at all.
When Senator Frist declared the second week in May as ``Health Week,'' I naively assumed that maybe, just maybe, we would actually begin a real discussion about health care in the United States. I thought we would talk about serious and meaningful ways to address the health care problems faced by average Americans--important problems like: the 45 million Americans without health insurance; the worsening epidemic of chronic diseases, including asthma, obesity, and diabetes; the persistent and pervasive problems with patient safety and health care quality; or the status of emergency and pandemic avian flu preparedness.
I know that I am not the only Senator who has been disappointed. A number of my Democratic colleagues have mentioned other pressing, critical issues on the floor this week, including stem cells, the looming enrollment deadline for Medicare Part D, and drug importation.
Yet so far we have had only a sham discussion on medical malpractice, revisiting the same old bills that have been rejected in the past that do not represent any real attempt to compromise and find solutions to the problems that many of our doctors and patients face.
And now, the Senate has turned its attention to the Enzi small business health plan. I know that small businesses need help in providing health care coverage to their employees. Small businesses are paying the price for this Congress's refusal to seriously embrace comprehensive health care reform, to expand coverage and contain costs.
Yet this bill is not the solution, and it is not part of a solution. In fact, some have described it as the antisolution.
In my opinion, any health coverage reform bill that passes the Congress should meet, at a minimum, three criteria: First, it may sound crazy, but I think a health coverage bill should actually expand coverage. The Enzi bill has been estimated to expand coverage to less than 1 million of the 45 million uninsured Americans. This is laughable.
In fact, some States will actually see an increase in the number of uninsured. In New York, for instance, 28,000 people could lose their health insurance coverage because of this bill.
Second, a good health reform bill should ensure comprehensive, quality health care. Over 200 health professional and patient advocacy groups have expressed their opposition to this bill, because it will promote health plans that won't offer the basic health care services that we all depend upon and take for granted, such as maternity care, mental health services, diabetes care, dental care, and so forth.
I have rarely seen such a large number of groups come together as swiftly, as vociferously, and as united as these groups have been against this bill.
Third, a good health reform bill should have a positive effect on the health insurance market. Will the market be stabilized and strengthened, or will it be weakened and fragmented? Again, the Enzi bill does not pass muster. Over 40 attorneys general have expressed serious concerns about this bill's preemption of State protections and laws and its restrictions on State oversight and regulation.
This so-called health week makes a mockery of the efforts of those who are working to achieve real health care reform. While we in Congress are squandering precious time on this bill, our States are moving ahead, exerting leadership because Congress has failed to act.
Illinois is in the process of implementing a program called All Kids, which will ensure that every child in the State is covered by health insurance. And we all know that Massachusetts just passed a sweeping, universal health coverage bill, negotiated and passed in bipartisan fashion.
In contrast, the last major health insurance reform passed by Congress was in 1997, when the SCHIP program was created. Even though the number of uninsured has continued to rise, almost 10 years have gone by without a serious congressional effort to address this crisis.
This is wrong. The Durbin-Lincoln amendment, which I have cosponsored, is a good example of how we can meaningfully expand health coverage without sacrificing the quality of care received.
The central tenet of the amendment is that small business employees should have access to the same health insurance coverage that members of Congress and other Federal employees receive themselves.
The health care problems facing our country are serious ones, and the solutions will not be easy. But we need to have a serious debate about this issue--a debate that addresses the whole problem and isn't just about scoring political points in an election year.
The American people expect as much, and I hope this failed attempt at a ``health week'' is not the last chance we will have to talk about an issue that is the chief financial concern of millions upon millions of people in this country.
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