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Mr. TESTER. Mr. President, come snow or sunshine--day or night--we are close to sealing the deal to change our country for the better, to finally hold insurance companies accountable, and to make health care affordable for all folks in this country.
Right now we are all paying far too much for health insurance. Many of us can not get health insurance at all. And even worse, insurance companies don't always live up to their end of the bargain.
Sure, a lot of folks are happy with the health care they have.
Our doctors, nurses and hospitals and medical research are the best in the world.
But when you add it all up, many are paying too much for it. Or nothing for it. Too many lives are lost. Too much money is wasted. And too many folks are falling through the cracks.
They are calling out for help. I have heard their voices. Now I want you to hear their stories. They are ordinary people who stand to lose everything unless we reform our health care system.
I support this health care reform bill because it saves lives. It saves money. It saves Medicare. And it is tough on insurance companies--taking them to task to ensure affordable, fair coverage.
I have a perspective different than most of my friends in the Senate.
I am--and always will be--a third generation Montana farmer. My wife Sharla and I do all the work on our farm. I am the guy sitting on the tractor.
A farmer knows a good year from a bad year. And I have had my share of bad years. In fact, for a few of those years--not long after our first kid was born--Sharla and I had to give up health insurance to make ends meet. We had no other choice but to hope and pray for health and safety.
Thank God our prayers were answered.
Now, I have the honor of serving Montana in the Senate.
But mine is one of the thousands of real Montana families that has been forced to wing it, rather than depend on a health care system that works. And that holds insurance companies accountable.
I know of a woman from Ravalli, MT, who cannot afford health insurance because of her pre-existing condition. She and her husband got letters from the insurance company telling them their premiums were going up, $500, to $600, to $700 per month. Through no fault of her own, her insurance just became too expensive. So she gave up.
This legislation will prevent that sort of nonsense in the insurance industry from happening again. In this bill, a health insurer's participation in the exchanges will depend on its performance.
Insurers that jack up their premiums before the exchanges begin will not be included. That is a powerful incentive to keep premiums affordable.
We all have friends and relatives who aren't fortunate enough to have a job where health insurance is part of the deal. So they do what millions of others are forced to do: they hope and pray they stay healthy.
We have a problem. It is time for a solution using common sense and fiscal responsibility. And that is why I am going to vote for this health care reform bill, so we can save lives, save money, save Medicare. And so we can hold insurance companies accountable, so they don't drop people when they are sick, or drive families into bankruptcy.
Because of tax credits, this bill is good for small businesses. It gives eligible small businesses access to up to 6 years of tax credits. That will help small businesses buy health insurance for their employees.
Because of tough new rules for the insurance industry, it is good for families and kids.
And because of commonsense ideas like cross-State insurance markets, more competition, and more choices, it is good for millions of Americans who--until now--have had to rely on hope and prayers.
If we do not pass this bill, our entire economy could fall apart beyond repair. Right now we are working hard to rebuild our economy, and it is working.
We are creating jobs and investing in the basic infrastructure needed to get our economy back out of the ditch. Fixing our broken health care system is part of that job.
Over the past few years, I have heard from thousands of Montanans telling me about the need to fix health care.
One of them is Roxy Burley. Roxy owns a hair salon in Billings, MT.
She just bought a home. She works hard. But she just can't afford health insurance. So, she says, she is walking a tightrope. Her home and her business are on one side. Her health is on the other side.
If Roxy gets sick, she worries she will lose her home and her business.
In Montana, our economy relies on people like Roxy Burley. We can't afford to have our economy walking a tightrope.
In this bill, Roxy will be protected from losing her home and business. Her annual out of pocket expenses are capped at no more than $5,950 per year.
I want to share another story that hits home for me. It is the story of Mindy Renfro. She lives in Missoula, MT.
Mindy got breast cancer not just once, not just twice, not just three times--four times: Breast cancers, four different cancers.
The same cancer didn't come back. She got a different cancer each time. The first two times, Mindy's insurance paid for her treatment.
The third time, the insurance company called her and said: We are sorry, but we are not going to pay. The underwriter, she says, determined her chances of survival were just too slim, so instead they offered to send a hospice nurse.
Mindy was a single mom in her early 40s, and she was simply not ready to check out. So she asked about her options. She was told if she wanted to start chemo, she would have to come up with more than $100,000 in cash. Her only option was to sell her home. Mindy and her children sold their home, and moved into an apartment. They packed up and moved out of their home so they could sell it and she could start the treatment she needed to stay alive. After many years of trying to repay that debt, Mindy recently declared bankruptcy.
I have heard many stories from folks in Montana who are in the same boat that Mindy is in. This isn't good business. This needs to stop. It is why I support this health care reform bill. I support it because under this bill, Mindy and people like her wouldn't have to declare bankruptcy. She would have had insurance, despite her preexisting condition of being a cancer survivor, and her annual out-of-pocket expenses would have been capped at no more than $5,950 per year, not the $100,000 in cash she needed to start cancer treatment. This bill is strong and decisive and tough on insurance companies so they cannot say, sorry, but no, when you get sick; so they cannot say, sorry, but no, if you have a preexisting condition.
Another story is about former ranchers Dan and Pat Dejong. This picture is of Pat. Dan and Pat used to own a cattle ranch in northwestern Montana. The ranch had been in their family for four generations. Dan and Pat couldn't afford health insurance. Then Dan was diagnosed with cancer. To pay the bills they had to make the painful decision to sell off their ranch.
I am going to tell you, when a piece of land has been in the family for four generations, you develop an attachment to that piece of land. But nonetheless when Dan got cancer, they had to pay the bills. They sold the family ranch. Under this bill, the Dejongs would have had access to subsidies so that they could have afforded health insurance in the first place. They never would have had to sell the ranch to pay the doctors' bills.
I want to read what Pat wrote to me about that experience:
The cancer ravaged Dan's body, but selling our ranch to pay for medical costs broke his spirit.
Dan Dejong lost his battle with cancer 2 years ago. All his bills were paid, but the ranch that had been in the family for four generations was gone, as well as Dan. After all that, Pat still cannot afford health insurance today.
Under this health care reform bill, getting sick won't force folks such as Dan and Pat Dejong to sell the land that has been in their family for generations. That is because it limits the amount of money you would have to pay out-of-pocket to a rate you can afford based on how much you earn. That means no Americans would have to sell their homes or their family ranches to pay the medical bills.
I know a lot of folks already have health insurance, and they are wondering, how is this going to affect me. Let me be clear: If you like your plan, you get to keep it. If you don't, you can look for a more affordable plan that works best for you and your family. Everyone will have access to affordable health insurance. Right now those with health insurance are subsidizing those without.
The other day I struck up a conversation with a trucker back in Montana who told me: I don't need insurance. I don't want insurance. I don't get sick. I asked: What happens if you get into an accident? You are a trucker; that is always a possibility. He said: All I have to do is go to the emergency room where they take care of me, no questions asked.
That is exactly the problem. When everybody is insured, costs will go down, because no one will be paying extra to cover the folks who rely on the emergency room for health care that they eventually never pay for. It is common sense. It saves lives, and it saves money.
I have been on the phone with tens of thousands of Montanans over the past few weeks answering questions about health care. A lot of them want to know how we are going to pay for this bill. How much will it increase our debt?
It won't increase our debt one thin dime. In fact, it will lower our deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars, $132 billion over the next 10 years alone. It reduces the deficit even more in the decade after that. The fact that this bill saves money is pretty important to me. It doesn't add to the deficit. It cuts billions of dollars of government waste. It requires a bigger chunk of your premiums to go directly to better health care instead of administrative costs and profits, it saves money for families by lowering costs for everyone and by limiting the amount of money you have to pay out-of-pocket for health care and by emphasizing wellness and prevention--the low-hanging fruit of health care reform, and by holding insurance companies accountable so we don't pay more than our fair share for the health care we need.
When you turn on the TV these days or open the newspaper, you see all sorts of spin about the health care reform and Medicare. It amazes me how distorted the facts have become. I have read the bill. The plain-as-dirt fact is it makes Medicare stronger. All guaranteed Medicare benefits stay as they are. They are just that--guaranteed. Seniors are guaranteed to keep their benefits, such as hospital stays, access to doctors, home health care, nursing homes, and prescription drugs. How do we make Medicare stronger? We make it stronger by getting rid of wasteful spending, by making prescription drugs for seniors more affordable, and by spending your money smarter.
Without this bill, Medicare will be on the rocks within a matter of years. If we don't fix it now, it will go broke, leaving entire generations in the lurch. Millions of Americans have worked hard all their lives for Medicare benefits. They have earned it. That is why we are making Medicare better, not worse. That is common sense.
The same goes for VA health care. This bill does not affect VA health care or TRICARE. I serve on the Veterans' Affairs committee. Over the past 3 years we have made good progress in delivering the promises made to veterans. We still have a lot of work to do, but this health care reform legislation takes us forward even further for America's veterans.
Finally, this bill preserves some of the most important parts of quality health care: the relationship between you and your doctor and the freedom of choice you have as a patient. In Montana, as in many parts of the country, we don't tolerate the government snooping around our private lives or making personal decisions for us. Health care is no exception. This health care reform bill not only saves lives, it saves money and saves Medicare. It keeps the government out of the exam room and waiting room.
I go home to Montana about every weekend to visit with the folks and hear what is on their minds. I meet with doctors and nurses, hospital administrators and regular folks from all over the State to hear their concerns. Everywhere I go, health care is the No. 1 issue. It is clear that the worst option is to do nothing at all. If that happens, insurance companies won't be held accountable. As costs go up, health care costs will continue to break families and people who need treatment to stay alive won't get it.
I know a fellow farmer who worked some land back in Montana. When he got sick, he had to sell off entire chunks of his family farm to pay the bills, piece by piece. Piece by piece, I watched as he made painful sacrifices for his health care. Piece by piece, his livelihood was broken apart. No American deserves that.
People are calling out for help, because a lot of folks are falling through the cracks. I say to them: We are listening. We hear you, and we are doing something about it. That is why this is a good bill. It is a bill I support. It will allow Americans to get the health insurance they have needed, and the insurance will be affordable. It is the result of a lot of hard work and working together to do what is right for the country--for America's rural families, seniors, veterans, small businesses, family farms, and ranchers. The people of this country deserve no less.
I yield the floor.
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