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Public Statements

30- Something Working Group

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP -- (House of Representatives - July 22, 2009)

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Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Well, thank you so much for letting me say a few words here and thank you for convening us all here on the floor to counter some of what we hear on the other side, as you mentioned, that this would be the worst thing we could ever do and what is wrong with this. I'm glad to be here for a while to talk about what is right about this.

You mentioned that I have been working on this for a little while. I often tell people I may be a freshman in Congress--and I truly am one of the freshmen and proud to be here--but I've been working on this since I was first elected to the State legislature in 1992, which was also a year we all thought we were running on health care and when we promised the American public we were going to do something about this.

And what I would say is most significant about talking about the issue now when I'm back in the district--and I, like most of my colleagues, have held forums of doctors and businesspeople and individuals who have health care, individuals who can't afford their health care, everyone across the spectrum.

What is different is, when I first ran in 1992, I would sit down with a group of the doctors in my home county, Knox County, and they would say, Keep your hands off medicine. Don't want socialized medicine. Leave this alone.

And when I meet with the doctors today, they say, How soon are you going to fix this system? They tell me, We can't work anymore. We can't provide our patients with the care that they need.

This will be surprising, but they took a poll of the doctors in Maine--and, look, we're not a completely liberal State. We've got two Republican United States Senators. But our doctors said, with a 50 percent margin, that they wanted single-payer health care now. Now, we're not voting on single-payer today. We are working on a bill that is an excellent bill. But that just shows you how far the medical profession has come. Doctors, nurses, alternative providers, they're all saying that.

Certainly, my Chambers of Commerce, when I sit down with them, it's same thing. They don't say to me anymore, Keep your hand off medicine. They say, How soon are you going to do this? We can't afford to cover the cost of our employees. And they want to. They know that it's better to have your employees covered.

These aren't people trying to run away from the bill. These are people who are saying, with the costs going up, with a limited number of providers, We cannot not afford to be in the system any more.

Recent figures in Maine show, if you have health care insurance--and you all may have mentioned this before I came into the room--but if you have health insurance today, $1,200 of your payments are going to a cost shift to cover everybody else. When people say to me, Don't tax me to cover health care, you're already paying a tax if you have health care coverage.

One other thing I want to say and then get back into the dialogue. My good friend from New York mentioned the challenges of being a State legislator. Certainly States today, as we all know, are struggling under the weight of trying to cover the uninsured, the charity care in hospitals. I am fortunate to have a daughter who is the Speaker of the House in the State of Maine.

I can guarantee you, as they made budget cut after budget cut after budget cut, every time she could pick up the phone and call me, she would say, Mom, when are you guys in Washington sending the money back to our State because we can't afford this anymore? And I am one of those who have valiantly tried health care reform. We have many of the insurance reforms that we are talking about in this bill, but frankly, they don't go far enough. You can't count on the insurance companies just to do it out of the goodness of their hearts.

We've tried it all in our State. States are struggling under the weight of this. We need a Federal plan, just like the bill we're working on today. It's an excellent piece of legislation. It's a very good start, and I am very excited to be here with all my colleagues tonight.

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Ms. PINGREE of Maine. You know, it's interesting. I want to just talk about this point for a minute.

I was doing a Statewide radio talk show the other day, and I got the question that, I think, a lot of us get when we talk about the public plan, and I completely agree with you about this issue of choice.

In my State, two insurance companies control 88 percent of the market, and one of them is controlling 78 percent of the market. So, you know, we've tried all kinds of alternative, and insurance companies just don't want to participate. You're right. There is no choice. A lot of States are faced with the same kind of increases.

Somebody asked me on the call-in show, Well, how are you going to make sure there is a level playing field? Is this going to be fair to insurance companies? I said, Wait a minute. It's not my job to support insurance companies that are declaring 32 percent increases or 15 percent increases or whatever is going on in your State. It's not my job to make sure insurance companies can pay CEOs huge salaries and have huge administrative costs. My job is to make sure that everybody in my State and in this country has access to affordable health care. The hospitals can keep operating. The doctors can keep seeing patients. It's not my job to make sure insurance companies make huge profits. It's my job to make sure that everybody has access to health care.

The reason we have a public plan, as my colleagues have so eloquently stated, is so that there is some choice in competition out there. Isn't that what we're here for? When people say to us, Government should act more like a business, well, that's what we're doing. We're trying to create a more businesslike atmosphere out there so there really is choice and competition.

I just want to read a couple of interesting facts and then turn it back to my colleagues.

You know, in looking at some of the numbers in my own State--and I know we've all been doing this--it is really fascinating. I think a lot of people don't know how amazing this bill can be if and when we get it passed, and I believe we will soon. In my district alone, there are 87 seniors in the district who are hitting the doughnut hole in that they are forced to pay full drug costs. Well, under this plan, we're going to do something about that doughnut hole. That's a huge difference in our State. The legislation also cuts brand name costs in the doughnut hole. This is a huge change for all of us and for many seniors who are already struggling.

You know, I looked at another interesting fact. In my district in 2008, there were 690 health care-related bankruptcies. How many times do we hear a story about somebody who has put his health care bills on his credit card, about somebody who just can't afford to get by anymore because he couldn't pay for his health care costs? Well, this bill not only will provide health insurance for almost every American, but it will cap your annual out-of-pocket costs with $10,000 a year. That ensures that no citizen is going to get to that position. It's going to make a huge difference. We're talking about things that people will feel in the economy in their daily lives.

If we want to talk about, as many of my colleagues have said, the economy and what could make it a lot better, I know in my State it would be by lowering the costs of health care and by making sure everyone has access and by making sure everyone is covered from lowering those costs.

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