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Public Statements

Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, first, I wish to thank our distinguished chairman of the Finance Committee for debunking what has just been said on the Senate floor by our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, laying out the facts of what is and is not happening with Medicare Advantage. I wish to build on that as well.

I would encourage anyone who is interested to go to the Web site of AARP, one of the organizations we know to be champions for seniors, and take a look at what they say about the myth that health care reform will hurt Medicare. They lay out several things. One is:

None of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.

Then, just this week, in supporting our efforts, they have put out a statement, a letter, and at the end, again, they reiterated:

Most importantly, the legislation does not reduce any guaranteed Medicare benefits.

I find it interesting that a few years ago our colleagues quoted AARP all the time when we were debating the Medicare prescription drug bill--I would guess that every single one of our Republican colleagues used their support in putting forward their bill--and now they are trying to disparage AARP, which is a very credible organization, because they don't agree with what AARP is saying. But I think the millions of people who belong to AARP will be listening to what they are saying about the fact that we are not, in fact, cutting the guaranteed Medicare benefits.

In addition to that, we have the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare all saying they support what we are doing and they have debunked the Republicans' scare tactics point by point.

So what is happening here? The reality is that colleagues on the other side of the aisle, since the inception of Medicare, have been fighting even the existence of Medicare. It was Democrats and a Democratic President in 1965 who passed Medicare over their objections. The same arguments we are hearing today, we heard then. Now everyone sees that Medicare is a great American success story. But we have seen so many efforts.

In the 1990s, when I was a Member of the House, Speaker Gingrich said in his Contract With America in 1994 that they wanted to come in and change Medicare, they couldn't directly do it so they would do it through the back door and let it ``wither on the vine''--those famous words that we heard at that time in terms of trying to privatize Medicare, which is what I believe Medicare Advantage really is.

Then, recently, in the debate on the floor of the House of Representatives, we had 80 percent of the House Republicans support an effort to do away with Medicare at all, as we know it, as a guaranteed benefit.

Instead, give vouchers to seniors to buy from private for-profit insurance companies. We know the reality of this. This is about the for-profit insurance industry that right now is receiving overpayments. Whether it is the CBO or MedPAC--any analysis will say they are receiving overpayments right now, and we are trying to ratchet that back.

What is happening? Why should folks care? Of course, taxpayers care about overpayments. We have maybe 15 to 20 percent of seniors right now who are in the Medicare Advantage Program. We have been told by the Budget Office that 80 to 85 percent will see their premiums go up to pay for overpayments to for-profit insurance companies. That is not fair. The vast majority of seniors and people with disabilities would see their premiums go up under Medicare to pay for for-profit insurance companies that try to get a piece of the action under Medicare.

Secondly, we know the Medicare Advantage Program, as the chairman has said, and in reading the report, has actually made the solvency of the Medicare trust fund worse. It is going to run out of money sooner if we don't stop these overpayments. Our legislation, rather than having it run out of money 18 months earlier, will increase the solvency by 5 years. We are committed to increasing and continuing the solvency of the trust fund and protecting Medicare for the future. We believe it is a great American success story. We are proud that Democrats were the ones who created Medicare, with a Democratic President. We are proud that it is Democrats now who are coming forward to be able to make sure we protect Medicare for the future.

What is happening here is that we are seeing a variety of stalling tactics, a variety of efforts on the other side not only to stop us from moving forward on health insurance reform, but efforts time and time again to protect the for-profit insurance companies.

For the record, I want to read to you the list of Medicare benefits everyone receives now, which will continue regardless of this--whether we cut back on some of the profits of the for-profit insurance companies: inpatient hospital care and nurses; doctor office visits; laboratory tests and preventive screenings; skilled nursing; hospice care; home health care; prescription drugs; ambulance services; durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs; emergency room care; kidney dialysis; outpatient mental health care; occupational physical therapy; imaging, such as x rays, CT scans, and so forth; organ transplants, and a ``welcome to Medicare'' physical.

They are all covered now and will be covered under this legislation. The difference is we are going to take the overpayment to the for-profit insurance companies and put it back into Medicare to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, which has become the infamous doughnut hole, the gap in coverage. We will begin to close that by taking the excess profit for the for-profit companies and putting it back into Medicare. We are going to reduce the premiums seniors pay for drugs and medical care and eliminate copays so that people can get preventive care without a fee, and we are going to strengthen Medicare for the future.

I will wrap up by saying this: This legislation, in total, is about saving lives, about saving money, and about saving Medicare. We admit our goal is not to save the profits of the for-profit insurance companies. We are guilty of that. We are focused on making sure Medicare is strong, vibrant, and solvent for our future generations, as well as our seniors today. By the way, we are going to make sure we are saving lives and money in the process.

I strongly urge us to oppose any effort that is put forward that would be done in the interest of the insurance industry and at the expense of seniors in America. That is what these efforts to commit are all about. I hope we will reject them.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, this is a very important amendment to clarify, once again, that we are not cutting any Medicare benefits. We are not cutting any of the guaranteed Medicare benefits people receive right now. In fact, AARP, which has been saying this on its Web site for months, has released a letter now. It quotes this sentence:

Most importantly, the legislation does not reduce any guaranteed Medicare benefits.

Not only AARP but the Association for the Protection of Medicare and Social Security, the Alliance for Retired Americans, and other seniors organizations all agree.

What we are talking about is saving Medicare, cutting down on overpayments that have been in place. Right now, 80 to 85 percent of the seniors who get their benefits, their health care, through traditional Medicare are paying more in premiums, according to the Congressional Budget Office, than they otherwise would, because MedPAC estimates we are paying about $12 billion more for people in the private for-profit insurance system right now that is called Medicare Advantage. The majority of seniors are subsidizing high insurance company profits and overpayments. What we have done in this bill is take out the overpayments and, in fact, put in competition, competitive bidding. I thought that was something our colleagues on the other side of the aisle supported--competitive bidding for reimbursements so we are not continuing the overpayments in Medicare Advantage that are causing Medicare to go broke much sooner and causing the majority of seniors to subsidize high insurance company profits.

What we are seeing on the effort, unfortunately, of my friends on the other side of the aisle is an effort to support huge subsidies instead of supporting competitive bidding that is in the bill.

The reality is that the guaranteed benefits--inpatient care, doctor visits, lab tests, preventive screenings, skilled nursing facilities, hospice care, home health care, prescription drugs, ambulance services, durable medical equipment, emergency room care, kidney dialysis, outpatient mental health care, occupational and physical therapy, imaging such as x-ray, EKGs, organ transplants, and the ``Welcome to Medicare'' physical are all covered, as they have been, for all Medicare beneficiaries.

What we are doing is taking overpayments to for-profit insurance companies and putting that back into increased benefits for every senior. That is cutting down on prescription drug costs by closing the doughnut hole and strengthening preventive care. And the most important piece of all: lengthening the solvency of the Medicare trust fund.

I urge the adoption of my amendment at the appropriate time.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, this amendment is very clear. My amendment states that nothing in this act shall result in the reduction or elimination of any benefits guaranteed by law to participants in Medicare Advantage plans.

Right now, CBO tells us, and we understand from MedPAC that there is $12 billion in overpayments to for-profit insurance companies, which are additional costs that the Medicare recipients pay beyond what is traditional Medicare.

Eighty-five percent of our seniors in Medicare are in traditional Medicare and, right now, we are told that every single senior citizen or person with disability in Medicare pays $90 extra; every couple pays $90 extra to pay for the overpayments to private for-profit insurance companies.

As AARP has said, this legislation does not reduce any guaranteed Medicare benefits. We are asking for competitive bidding--for-profit company competitive bidding--to bring down the overpayments. I ask for support for the amendment.

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