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Public Statements

Health Care Reform In America

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. ANDREWS. I thank my friend for yielding and for being here night after night talking about what is really in this bill and doing a great job on it. I thank him for his friendship. I would like to thank and congratulate Mr. Boccieri's courageous decision to vote in favor of this bill on behalf of the families that he talked about.

And to my friend from Ohio, I would also like to thank someone who we wouldn't usually hear about being thanked, and that is the millions of Americans who have contacted us who oppose this bill. And I have heard from my constituents who oppose this bill, and they are worried. They are very worried, and they should be, because if the things that they have been told were in this bill were true, not only would I be worried about it, but I would not vote for it.

Our constituents are not simply entitled to know where their Representatives stand, they are entitled to know where their Representatives stand on the facts that are actually before us.

I want to take a few minutes tonight to talk about the things that I have heard from my neighbors and constituents that worry them and then lay out the facts.

I have heard from my senior citizen constituents that they don't want any cuts in their Medicare benefits. The fact is this bill does not cut anyone's Medicare benefits. The opposite is true. To those seniors who enrolled in the Medicare part D prescription drug program, the amount of their prescriptions that Medicare pays for goes up, the amount of drugs that they pay for goes down, and eventually, by the end of this process, 75 percent, at least, of all prescription costs will be paid by Medicare and 25 percent by the seniors. It is the closure of the so-called doughnut hole. It is one of the main reasons that the AARP is supporting this bill.

When a senior goes to the family doctor or the OB-GYN for an annual checkup, when this bill becomes law, that senior won't pay any copay. Medicare will pay the entire cost of that visit. Those are the only changes in Medicare that affect people's benefits. The benefits increase.

We have heard the outrageous statement that Americans who are elderly or disabled will be denied health care because there will be death panels in the bill. The answer can be found in section 1302 of the underlying text that we will be considering on Sunday. That text directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services, ``to ensure that health benefits established as essential not be subject to denial to individuals against their wishes on the basis of the individual's age or expected length of life or the individual's present or predicted disability.'' That's the fact that is in the bill.

We have heard people say that they do not want to be forced to join a government health plan or any other health plan. They don't want to wait in a health clinic like the British do, like they say they do. They don't want to be in the Canadian system, and they are not. The fact is that section 1312 of the text that we will consider on Sunday says the following: ``Nothing in this title shall be construed to restrict the choice of a qualified individual,'' that is anyone, ``to enroll or not to enroll in a qualified health plan or to participate in the exchange.'' It goes on to say ``nothing in this title shall be construed to compel an individual to enroll in a qualified health plan.'' Nothing. That's what the bill says.

We have heard many Americans of good conscience say they do not wish to see their tax dollars pay for abortion services. My friend, Mr. Ryan, who is staunchly pro-life and has stood to that position irrespective of the political consequences, has eloquently described what the bill says. For those who wish to read it for themselves, go to section 10104 and read it. It says that no public funds may be used to pay for an abortion for anyone.

I hear constituents say, quite understandably, they do not want undocumented people to receive health care benefits or subsidies under this bill, what are sometimes referred to as illegal aliens. Neither do the authors of the bill. So if you go to section 1312f, a qualified individual is defined, and a qualified individual is someone who is a U.S. citizen or is here legally on a green card or other legal document. That's what the bill says.

We hear that the bill will destroy small businesses across the country. Small businesses do create three out of every four private sector jobs in this country. The bill does have a substantial effect on small business. Here is what it isn't and here is what it is. What it isn't is a crushing mandate on small businesses, because section 1304 of the bill says, if a business has 50 or fewer full-time employees, the business is required to do nothing. No mandate, no requirement, no tax, nothing. The person who is running a gas station, a deli, a barber shop, a small firm, nothing.

What the bill does say about small business is this: That the same deal that General Electric or Lockheed Martin or a huge company can get, so can the small business by joining a purchasing exchange set up in each State. And it says that the smallest of businesses will get a tax cut effective immediately this year for insuring their employees voluntarily. If you have 50 or fewer employees, you are not required to do anything and you probably qualify for a tax cut as a result of hiring more people.

Finally, we hear that this bill will dramatically increase the country's deficit and debt. And as a father of two daughters who are 15 and 17, I worry about a lot of things unrelated to politics and the debt, but I also worry about the debt because they are going to have to pay it off. I think the American people need to know a fact about the debt before they consider this bill. The debt is everyone's fault. I have had the privilege of serving here quite a long time. Both parties share a blame. I own my share of the responsibility. But we need to know this: 70 percent of the national debt was run up during the administrations of President Reagan, the first President Bush, and the second President Bush. Seven out of every $10 of debt came from them.

Now, what does this bill do to the national debt and deficit? You should not believe the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or any political person on this issue. Mr. Speaker, our constituents, for those who wonder what this does to the national deficit and debt, look at the accounting by the neutral, nonpartisan scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office, which for a long time around here has been recognized as the gold standard and authority. Here is what they say. They say that if this bill becomes law, the deficit will be reduced by $138 billion over the next 10 years, and, in the second 10 years, it will be reduced by $1.2 trillion.

Everyone in this Congress is entitled to his or her own opinion, but the American people are entitled to the facts. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not everyone is entitled to their own facts. The facts are that this is what is in the bill. The things that people have been told about this bill are not true, and, Mr. Speaker, I would invite those who wonder to go to the Internet, to read the bill and draw their own conclusions and then frankly evaluate the criticisms of people who will continue to mislead about this bill.

We are fortunate that people of good faith have made legitimate criticisms about this bill. We tried to listen and improve the bill, and on Sunday we look forward to a clear, on-the-record vote to adopt this legislation.

I thank my friend for yielding.

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Mr. ANDREWS. It is. I would like to thank the gentleman for being here, for being the former insurance commissioner of California, really knowing these issues and doing a great job. I want to talk about one of the people who would be helped by this.

A few years ago, I was in my best friend's wedding, and I was in the bridal party, and there was a beautiful young lady who was also in the bridal party as a bridesmaid. The wedding was in June. We all had a great time; all of our families there. My wife and I had a wonderful time. A few months later, around Thanksgiving, she started to feel sick. Now, she was a part-time cafeteria aide in a public school. Her husband was a truck driver who lost his job. So they had no health insurance.

She started to feel some stomach discomfort. She went to the emergency room. They decided to admit her to the hospital. They said they were going to run a series of tests over the next couple of days. And she was terrified that if she stayed in the hospital for that time that she would run up a huge bill that she couldn't afford. So she checked herself out. She continued to have some stomach problems, and again afraid to go see a doctor because she couldn't pay the bill. This is around Thanksgiving. She died the day after Christmas, leaving her kids behind.

A lot of politics on this floor, I say to the gentleman from California. She is not here today to hear those politics. Her kids don't have a mother because someone who worked hard for a living, who was in a rough time in their life, could not afford health care. She is the issue and her children are the issue on Sunday.

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Mr. ANDREWS. If the gentleman will yield, I know the person you are talking about. Shortly before the holidays this year, on a very snowy Saturday, my wife and I went to a large department store to pick up some last-minute items. A lady in Audubon, New Jersey, was working at the store and talked about what a long day for her it was. She was in the eighth or ninth hour of her shift. And she had no health insurance because she conveniently fit underneath the full-time worker category, working for a huge corporation. She was not yet 65, so she didn't have Medicare. And she was really worried that she was going to get sick, because if she got sick she also had a preexisting condition which would make it all the worse. Couldn't buy insurance.

Here is what this bill says, as the gentleman knows, to that lady. First of all, because she works for a large firm, her employer is going to have to either insure her or contribute toward the cost of insuring her. And she is going to be able to get insured for 3 or 4 percent of her income, maybe $15 or $20 a week, which is affordable for her. A lot of people say, well, this is an unfair mandate on business. They don't understand. When a huge corporation like that one doesn't pay its fair share, the rest of us all do. She will get insurance, it will be paid for fairly, and I think she is the lady the gentleman is talking about.

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Mr. ANDREWS. I think the gentleman's point, Mr. Speaker, is so well taken, because a lot of times people hear about this legislation and say, Well, okay, what does this really have to do with me? I have insurance, I'm employed, I don't run a small business, so I'm concerned about this because I think I'm going to pay higher taxes and get nothing for this.

Let me deal with that. First of all, if you live in a family that has an income of less than a quarter of a million dollars a year, there is no tax on your family. If you are an individual that earns less than $200,000 a year, there is no new tax on your family. So let's get that straight.

Secondly, who is the next person who is going to find out that they are diabetic, or they are asthmatic, or God forbid they are diagnosed with a malignancy, or there is some other condition, as you said, that is relatively trivial as acne or eczema or something like this. The record is filled with people who are denied coverage or who face huge premium increases.

Because I am sure, Mr. Speaker and my friend from California, there are people watching this tonight who thought today was their lucky day, that they got a job offer. This happened to someone I know very well in my family. She got a job offer. She had been looking for a long time for a job, and this is the job she wanted. The employer called back the next day and said, We're sorry, but we have to rescind our offer because you cost too much to insure because she's diabetic and has a family history of breast cancer. So her punishment for conditions that are beyond her control is that she is now unemployable if she wants health insurance.

Now, people say that in this country everybody should work their way up the ladder. I completely agree with that. How can you work your way up the ladder if you can't get an employer to offer you a job because you are not insurable? That is over when this bill becomes law.

Mr. GARAMENDI. The gentleman could not be more correct. And those are very, very common. Along the same lines, we often consider America to be the country of entrepreneurs. We know the statistics are clear, the evidence is there, the polling has indicated that tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of Americans do not begin their own small businesses because they fear that they will be unable to get insurance. They don't want to leave the big corporate family. I know a specific fact of a fellow that worked at the university and wanted to start his own business. He and his wife wanted to start their own business for 10 years, and yet with small children and she with a preexisting condition, they did not do so. And so that entrepreneurial spirit was stifled by the insurance system we have in America.

Under this legislation they will be able to get insurance, either directly with an insurance company or as soon as in this case the State of California develops its exchange, which is a pooling. You talked about this when you spoke earlier. And we really ought to have a better discussion and a more thorough discussion about the exchanges, which is a method of setting up a mechanism in which standard benefit insurance policies will be available from different companies, the information will be readily available, and the insurance companies will be forced to compete with each other on quality and price and availability. Those exchanges are an extremely important way to create competition and availability of insurance.

Mr. ANDREWS. If the gentleman will yield, it is not a terribly exotic concept. My family has two kittens, so we buy a lot of food for them and the other things that they need.

We buy them at one of these discount centers. I won't name the brand name. But we buy them at one of the centers because you can buy these products a lot cheaper than you can at retail because there is a purchasing group that gets a better deal on these products. This is a concept Americans understand very well. The larger the volume of the group of buyers, the better the discount.

The problem for those small entrepreneurs that the gentleman talks about is they're out there on their own. They're out there with 5, or 6, or 7, or 20 people, and they get whatever they can get. But when they join an exchange--if they want to--it is voluntary. When they join an exchange, they join a buy-in club, that just like our family is able to buy our pet supplies at a cheaper price. They're going to buy health insurance at a price at a Lockheed Martin, or a General Electric, or the United States of America.

And listen, their employees are going to get the same choices of health plans that we do as Members of Congress. It's long overdue.

Mr. GARAMENDI. I'm relatively new here, and I don't know everything about the health systems here. But when I signed up, I was given an array of options. I could go to Blue Cross-Blue Shield, or I can get Aetna, or Kaiser. It turns out that Federal Government employees, including every Member of Congress, have access to an exchange. And if you happen to be in California and you're a public employee at the State or county, many of the counties and cities, you are already in an exchange called CalPers, California Public Employees Retirement System. Those are exchanges. This is nothing new. What we're doing is making that exchange available to everybody.

Mr. Andrews, you have been here some time, and I know you're very familiar and indeed an expert on the American economy. Let us talk a little bit about the American economy and why this legislation is extremely important to the American economy.

Right now we rank 19th in our health, in how healthy we are. And we're actually ranking below Colombia. The fact of the matter is we also spend nearly 17 percent of our total wealth, our GDP, on health care. Our competitors in Europe, Japan, Korea, spend no more than 11 percent--most of them are 10 percent and below. So you know in your economy, we have an enormous disadvantage.

I remember actually it was President Clinton talking about this, and it's as though we took a check every year for about $800 billion and gave it to our competitors. We're giving that advantage to our competitors because our health care system is so expensive and consumes so much of our economy and leaves us not at the top of the heap, but at the bottom.

Mr. ANDREWS. Thank you for calling me an expert on the U.S. economy. That is hardly the case. That is the one inaccurate thing the gentleman said.

I do know this from listening to my neighbors: The economy is in deplorable, horrible shape. It's the worst economy, I think, in my life.

And the number one issue today is not health care; it is the economy, but it's important to understand how this issue plays into jobs and the economy.

Businesses can't create jobs as their premiums skyrocket. As an employer pays more and more and more in health care, what he or she has to do is either hire fewer people or offer narrower health benefits. The auto manufacturers tell us that the price of health care for their employees in making a car costs more than the price of steel that goes into the car.

A young entrepreneur starting a software company is likely to not even make it at all or crash and burn from the beginning because of these costs.

One of the ways to help businesses create more jobs--and by the way, an independent estimate shows that over time, the savings that this health care bill will generate will create 4 million jobs in the United States--is to fix health care.

So I do say one thing. Our opponents do have a track record, because I hear their rhetoric. They say that well, the taxes that are required on families making more than a quarter million of dollars to help pay for this--by the way; it's about 55 percent spending cuts, 45 percent new revenues to pay for this--but that those taxes will have a catastrophic effect on job creation. We will hear that ceaselessly this weekend. And they're consistent, if nothing else.

I want to read you a statement that was made, as an echo, not about this plan, but another plan 17 years ago. Here's the quote. ``It is a recipe for disaster. It is not a recipe for more jobs. Taxes will go up. The economy will sputter along. Dreams will be put off, and all this for the hollow promise of deficit reduction, of lower interest rates''

The plan was not this health care plan. It was the Clinton economic plan in 1993. The Speaker was former majority leader Dick Armey, one of the leading critics of this plan. He was wrong then, and he is wrong now.

Mr. GARAMENDI. What happened, if I recall in the 1990s after he said that, the Balanced Budget Act did pass. You were here. I think you were here at the time.

Mr. ANDREWS. I was, and I will confess I didn't vote for that plan, and I regret that vote. I think it was a mistake because I frankly didn't understand it as well as I should. It was a mistake on my part.

Mr. GARAMENDI. That is one of the wonderful things about life. You can come back and do it a second time.

In this case we're looking at a situation where in the Clinton balanced budget plan, it led to the longest sustained economic growth in America's history. And we created--I forget the number of jobs----

Mr. ANDREWS. Twenty-three million new jobs.

Mr. GARAMENDI. Twenty-three million jobs were created during that period of time.

Excuse me. Do you remember the statistics for the Bush, George W. Bush years?

Mr. ANDREWS. I do. For every private-sector job created during the George W. Bush years, during the Clinton years we created 140. Let me say that again. For every one private-sector job that the Bush administration with its policies created, 140 were created during the Clinton administration.

Now, the reason I make this point is that the same rhetoric that we're hearing this weekend, that these taxes which affect the top 3 or 4 percent of people in America, are going to have a catastrophic effect on jobs, this is an echo chamber.

One other quote I want to read you again about the 1993 plan: ``This plan puts the economy in the gutter. If it was to work, then I would have to become a Democrat.'' The person who said that was former Representative John Kasich, a very dear friend of mine, budget chairman, who unfortunately--depending on how you look at it--is not a Democrat; he's still a Republican, even though it did not put the economy in the gutter; it created 23 million new jobs.

So we will hear this tired old refrain this weekend, but the facts dictate differently.

Mr. GARAMENDI. I want to take up another subject that you broached earlier in the conversation, and that is of seniors.

The senior population spent the good part of the summer being totally scared, frightened, purposely so, with a pack of incorrect, or shall I just call them lies. Death panels, Medicare is going to be cut, other things were put out there to scare seniors into opposing this. When in fact--and you went through some of this; I want you to drive this home--when in fact, this piece of legislation that we will vote on Sunday strengthens the Medicare program and provides significant benefits and increases.

So, please.

Mr. ANDREWS. I thank the gentleman again.

What does that plan mean for seniors? It means no cuts in benefits for any senior. It means an expansion of benefits to cover more prescription drugs as well as preventative care visits. It means that the life of the Medicare trust fund will be extended for 7 or 8 more years, and it emphatically does not mean that any senior, any disabled person, will ever be denied coverage because of their age or disability. It's not the truth.

Mr. GARAMENDI. And you cited the specific code sections, and you also cited the fact that this will reduce the deficit of America over the next 10 years by some $300 billion.

Mr. ANDREWS. The parties do have a record on entitlement health care spending. The erstwhile majority increased health care entitlements by $800 billion in deficit spending. We're going to decrease it by $1.2 trillion. That's a $2 trillion difference between the rhetoric of the other side and the facts of this bill.

Mr. GARAMENDI. And that was the Medicare Part D.

Thank you very much, Mr. Andrews.


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