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Public Statements

Recognition Of The Minority Leader

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I thank the distinguished Senator from Montana, who has been here morning, noon, and night counteracting falsehoods and scare tactics on the floor and putting forward what is really in this legislation that is so important to millions of people around the country. Everyone benefits, in one way or the other, by either costs coming down or by direct access to more affordable insurance. I thank our distinguished leader from Montana.

We have talked so much about Medicare and Medicare Advantage, but I do have to take a moment to respond to what has been said over and over on the floor. It is very difficult for me--and I know for others around the country--to listen to our friends from the other side of the aisle lamenting that they want to protect Medicare, when it was a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President who created Medicare, over the same objections, by the way. You can take a look at the objections in 1965, the debate: The world was going to come to an end if, in fact, we passed Medicare. Of course, Medicare has become a great American success story for tens of millions of seniors and people with disabilities.

Our friends now talk about how they are going to protect Medicare, at the same time that just a couple weeks ago, on the House side, 80 percent of Republicans voted to do away with Medicare as we know it today and make it a voucher system and put insurance companies back in control.

One of the frustrations for me is to hear the unfortunate negative comments that have been made about a very distinguished organization that represents senior citizens across the country, the American Association of Retired Persons, that I might add, when we were doing the prescription drug bill, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle used in every single speech because they were supporting them at that time. Now they are supporting our position. They disagree with them. They have said:

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

Now we are hearing how horrible they are, which I think is a real disservice to a very important national organization. I think it is important, in the name of truth and in the name of fairness, to look at quotes that have been made about AARP that are different from what we have heard on the floor today and since this debate began.

Our distinguished colleague from Arizona, who sponsored an amendment related to Medicare Advantage and has been on the floor numerous times, including today, disparaging AARP, said at an AARP convention:

I say God bless AARP--

This is the senior Senator from Arizona.

I say God bless AARP for everything they are doing, not only for the present generations of Americans, but for future generations. That's your duty, that's your strength, and that's why I love to see you at every town hall meeting.

The unfortunate thing is now our colleagues on the other side of the aisle don't want to see AARP at every townhall meeting because they are not saying what they want them to say.

I also have to express concern that we had 6 years of our colleagues in full control of the Federal Government--the Presidency, House, and Senate--and we did not get legislation to bring down health care costs or legislation to make sure every American, small business, and family could afford insurance as we are doing today. So it is a little difficult, even though we have come together on other issues on health care, on this particular one it is difficult now to hear all the criticisms that are flying and all the things we should be doing, but they were not brought forward a number of years ago, when they actually were in charge and could have done something about it. That is concerning to me.

This legislation is about saving lives, it is about saving money, and it is about saving Medicare.

I wish to share one story because not too long ago--it seems like a long time since we have been working so diligently this week--it was just Thanksgiving, and families all across America came together to reminisce around the dinner table, to watch football, and share a family meal. Even in tough times we stop, reflect, and give thanks for our many blessings. I know that is true for my family, and I am sure all our families.

This year, there were 45,000 empty place settings at tables across the country for men and women whose lives were cut short because they did not have health insurance. I wish to share one story.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.

Ms. STABENOW. I ask for an additional minute.

Mr. BAUCUS. I yield 1 minute.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Ms. STABENOW. One of those place settings was for a young man named Dr. Joe Hines, from Okemos, MI. He was a recent graduate of dental school. He had just completed his residency and had lined up a job in private practice in Detroit. He did not have health insurance. He became ill. He called his mom who urged him to go to a doctor, but he did not have insurance. He waited too long, figuring it would pass and it did not pass. It got worse. He died at age 27.

This legislation is about Joe Hines. It is about his family. It is about every one of the 45,000 families who lost loved ones this year. It is about the 14,000 people who got up this morning--today--on a Saturday, with insurance and will go to bed without it. Saving lives, saving money, saving Medicare, that is what we are fighting to do.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I want to specifically respond to the Senator from Nevada who was talking about the Canadian health care system a little earlier. I appreciate the information, the education. Of course, it has nothing to do with this debate, but it was nice to hear. We now understand a little bit more about the Canadian health care system.

The great news for us is that what we are designing is a uniquely American health care system. I want to walk through the elements.

About 60 percent of the folks of the great State of Michigan get their health insurance through their employer. That will continue. We are told that either their premiums will stay the same or go down, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And we believe many of the efforts in this bill will actually bring costs down.

One of the reasons that costs will come down is those of us with insurance will no longer be paying through the back door for people who use the emergency room who are sicker than they otherwise would be. They use the emergency room and then the costs are shifted on to people with insurance. We know there is about a $1,100 hidden tax we each pay on our premiums to pay for people right now who do not have insurance and use the emergency room inappropriately. Those with insurance now will not see their insurance change in terms of how they relate to their employer and their insurance company, but they will see costs go down because others will actually have insurance and not be using emergency rooms inappropriately.

We also put in place protections for consumers, basically those, as the Senator from Minnesota was talking about, who have a preexisting condition and cannot find insurance now. Or somebody who has insurance. I don't know how many times I have heard from constituents of mine who have paid all their life and said, I don't have a problem, I have insurance, and then somebody gets sick and somebody gets dropped. They get dropped from their insurance because the insurance company does not want to pay for it.

People with insurance now will keep the system they have but will benefit from consumer protections and from gradually seeing costs come down because we are not paying for people who are using other health care services inappropriately.

We have about 80, 85 percent of the public right now who are covered with insurance, either through their employer or through Medicare, the great American success story we have been talking about, or through Medicaid, the VA, and so on. For the 15 to 20 percent of the public we are trying to provide options for affordable insurance, those are mainly people working. A vast majority of the people we are talking about work for a small business, they work part time, they work two part-time jobs, they work three part-time jobs.

I have been hearing from small businesses for years: We wish we had the same clout as big business. We wish we could pool all the small businesses and the individuals, that entrepreneur working out of their garage, that realtor who does not have a pool. Pool us and give us the same clout as big business.

That is what we are doing in this bill. Versions of this have been proposed by the distinguished Senator from Wyoming. I know back during the Clinton years during the debate, Senator Bob Dole proposed something similar. This has been a Democratic idea and a Republican idea for years.

We are calling this an insurance exchange where basically if somebody right now cannot find affordable insurance by going out by themselves in the individual market, they are going to be able to go to a place where companies will bid on the large pool of everybody who does not have affordable insurance now. Just like what we do for the Federal Government, like our insurance plan, our Federal employee insurance plan, which is an insurance exchange, someone will be able to go to a Web site or be able to get information and be able to find out about the private insurance companies that want to offer insurance to them through this insurance pool.

One of the things we are debating is whether there should be a public insurance choice for people. I believe there should be. I believe that in order to provide competition for the for-profit companies, we should have that. But the exchange is set up basically for small businesses and individuals to purchase--and we are told that people will see cheaper rates being able to do that. And to be sure they are able to do that, we are including tax cuts, refundable tax credits for individuals, for small businesses that cannot afford insurance today, to help them afford insurance. That is what the exchange is about. That will affect 15 to 20 percent of the public who do not have insurance today.

We also have in the bill another option where a State could choose to take the tax credits available to people in the exchange and could decide to pool those and do a basic health insurance plan and negotiate with an insurance company to get a better deal for people in their State.

We also have something I wish had been in place a couple of years ago for my own children, and that is, we are going to say to young people that you can stay on your parents' insurance until your 27th birthday. We also have a policy that is more geared to young people within the exchange that will be less cost to them.

Can you imagine all of the young people today, college or not, who come out, get the first job, like my children, no health insurance, who will benefit by saying you can stay on your parents' insurance until your 27th birthday? That is in this bill, and it is very important. Also basically make Medicaid for low-income individuals a safety net so that anyone below 133 percent of poverty can qualify. What that says is--and this is very important to people in my State where we have the highest unemployment rate in the country--if you lose your job, you are not going to lose your insurance. It is a very important right for Americans.

We are improving the Medicare system. We have certainly talked about that for a long time on the floor. A lot of time has been spent on the Medicare Program. We are cutting out overpayments to insurance companies, the for-profit companies right now that are being paid more than they should be and putting that back into the Medicare system to make it stronger for the future, to help pay for prescription drugs and to create more preventive care for seniors.

Then another very important piece I was very proud to coauthor with Senator Kerry relates to early retirees. We have a lot of folks who are retiring early not by choice. They are being told they are going to have to retire early at age 55 or age 58 or 59. They may or may not have insurance. If they do, they are a higher cost for their employer, and if they do not, it is extremely difficult to find affordable insurance for somebody more likely to be using health care at that point.

We have a provision where the Federal Government will partner with a business, with an insurance plan to make sure the costs are lower for the early retiree. It is called reinsurance. But for higher cost procedures or episodes, the Federal Government will come in above a certain level and cover the costs. It is a partnership between the private sector and the Federal Government to make sure early retirees, who are already being hit with a thousand different challenges as a result of early retirement, can afford insurance.

This is a snapshot of what we are doing. Again, the vast majority of people are in private employer-based insurance today. That will not change, other than this will over time bring their costs down and it will give them new protections because if something happens--and it is happening every single day where an employer has to decide, Do I pay the 30 percent increase in premiums or do I keep people employed? If people find themselves in a situation where their employer drops insurance or drops employees as a result of costs, they have another option. They have someplace to go where they cannot today. They can go into the insurance exchange. They can get tax cuts that will help them purchase more affordable insurance from a large group pool as a big business does.

Let me say that bottom line for all of this for us, despite everything that is being said, is that this is about saving lives, it is about saving money, and it is about saving Medicare. Every year we are losing 45,000 Americans who are dying prematurely because they cannot find health insurance and cannot get the health care they need. We have a variety of ways in this bill in which we are saving dollars. We have analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Tax showing that. And finally, we are saving Medicare for the future.

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