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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, first I thank my friend and colleague from Oregon, Senator Merkley, for those wonderful comments and his passion and commitment on this issue; also, Senator Lautenberg from New Jersey and my friend and partner from Michigan, Senator Levin, who will be speaking, and the great Senator from Rhode Island, as well, who has been a wonderful leader on this issue and so many other issues as well. We all come today because we are committed. We are absolutely committed to seeing reforms in our insurance system so families get what they are paying for and we can bring costs down and we can save lives.
We are here because we want to share the voices and stories from people in our States who have paid into a system and too often not gotten what they have paid for, not been able to benefit from the health care system that we have in this country.
It is important that insurance industry reforms be a part of health care reform. We know we are still in the process of bringing a bill to the floor. At this point we are talking about our goals and our commitment to the common shared values and goals that we have going forward because we know we need to make sure this is addressed.
When we started this debate earlier this year, I set up an online health care people's lobby for the people of Michigan to be able to share with me their thoughts, concerns, and stories as they relate to health care, not having health insurance, what is happening to their families. My sense was we can step outside this Chamber and meet at any moment with insurance company lobbyists and prescription drug lobbyists and others who are here representing special interests. It is very important that voices be heard from people who just want health care for their families and either cannot find it, cannot afford it, or they have it and the costs are going through the roof and then they find that what they have paid for or what they thought they were paying for is not what they are actually getting for their families.
That is specifically what we want to talk about today, the fact that there are abuses, bad practices occurring right now. People who have insurance have a stake in health care reform. We are not changing their ability to have insurance. Everyone can keep what they have. But we want to make sure they are getting what they are paying for.
That is a very important part of health care reform. It is important as we look at the fact that since 2000, insurance company profits have gone up 428 percent. People in my State would take a quarter of that. We are seeing insurance premiums during that same period go up 120 percent. Even though profits have gone up 428 percent, we still have seen premiums going up 120 percent, and now even higher. We are seeing more and more announcements of premiums going up despite the high profits in the industry.
What is most concerning is, for average people wages are either going down, they are losing their job, or if they have a job their wages certainly are growing much more slowly. In fact, over the 8-year period we have seen wages going up about 29 percent at best, if you are fortunate enough to have a job in this bad economy. That means every day insurance companies are taking a bigger chunk out of budgets of our families and businesses, and it is not fair.
The status quo is not working anymore for anybody other than those who are making profits off the system. It is hurting families, it is hurting businesses, and it is costing us jobs. In fact, health care reform is about jobs. It is about saving jobs, it is about making sure if you lose your job you do not loose your health care. It is about making sure that small businesses that want to provide insurance for employees can do that or not have to lay off people because premiums are going up. So it is very much about jobs.
It is very much about jobs, and that is why we need a health care reform bill now. It is time to put an end to the insurance company abuses. The goals we share in this process are to stop the process of denying coverage because of preexisting conditions; to stop the process of annual and lifetime caps on benefits; to stop the process where someone can get charged more or dropped from coverage if they get sick.
I have seen too many situations where somebody pays in, pays in, and pays the higher premiums and so on, and then somebody in the family gets sick and, based on technicalities, they are dropped or they are not covered. That is wrong. We are committed to fixing that.
We also want to make sure on the positive end that we are focusing on prevention and on checkups and making sure you can do that without the cost of copays and deductibles. We are encouraging people to get healthy, to get those early checkups, to be able to get the care on the front end that they need.
It is also extremely important as we move forward we crack down on discrimination by insurance companies. Right now women can pay twice as much for insurance as men and, in fact, get less coverage. In eight States and the District of Columbia, being a victim of domestic violence can count as a preexisting condition. I was stunned when I first heard that, and then said, well, that cannot be. We doubled back and, yes, in fact, that is true for men and women who need help for getting the insurance care they need right when they need it.
In many places, being pregnant, having ever been pregnant, even wanting to be pregnant, can be qualified as a preexisting condition. We had a report in the Washington Post about insurance companies that even denied coverage to men who were expectant fathers. I am not sure what kind of family values those are. But we need insurance reform that addresses some pretty basic things.
Right now 60 percent of the plans in the individual and small business markets do not cover vital maternity and prenatal care for pregnant women. That needs to change with health care reform. It is not an accident that we have an infant mortality rate of 29th in the world, below some Third World countries, children and babies who do not make it through their first year of life.
We look at the fact that too many insurance plans do not cover prenatal care and care for mom and baby during the first year of the baby's life. We are committed to changing that.
I wish to share a story I received that goes right to the heart of why insurance reform is so important to families in Michigan and all across the country. It comes from a constituent of mine in Michigan, Lynn, from Marshall, MI.
A few years ago she got the kind of news that every parent fears. Her son
Justin was diagnosed with leukemia. To date, his medical bills have totalled over $450,000. Thankfully they have insurance and his leukemia has a very high cure rate.
Justin is 21 now and a senior in college. He is doing fine, thankfully, but Lynn worries about what is going to happen when he graduates from college and can no longer stay on her insurance. With leukemia as a preexisting condition, his insurance premiums will go through the roof. And for a young man who is just starting his career, those kinds of costs would simply be unaffordable.
If Justin wants to start his own business, which is so central to the American dream, he would never be able to afford to pay for his own insurance with that kind of preexisting condition. How many other Justins are out there, who would be the innovators and the entrepreneurs we need to revitalize our economy in America? Who would make the difference if only they could afford to go out on their own and start their own company and know they could get affordable insurance without preexisting conditions and other barriers that have been in their way from insurance companies?
That is why we need health care reform. We need health insurance reform as a part of health care reform. We are committed to that. We are committed to stop abuses in the health insurance industry. Those who have insurance now who will be able to keep their insurance need to know they are getting what they are paying for in the health care system today for their families. That is why we need reform now, and we are committed to getting it done.
I yield the floor.
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