America's Uninsured -- (House of Representatives - May 11, 2004)
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Pence). Pursuant to the order of the House of January 20, 2004, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone) is recognized during morning hour debates for 5 minutes.
Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, this week Republicans begin an 8-week public relations campaign in an attempt to sell their special interest agenda to all Americans. Unfortunately, when Americans look beyond all the rhetoric, they will see the Republican proposals do nothing for the middle class. The so-called "Hire Our Workers" campaign begins this week with Republicans highlighting three pieces of legislation that they say will help the uninsured find insurance and middle class Americans better afford health care. But, Mr. Speaker, the Republican public relations effort is necessary because their health care proposals do no such thing.
This week is "Cover the Uninsured Week." But unfortunately, nothing the Republican Congress is proposing will help the more than 44 million Americans without health insurance gain any insurance. As health care costs continue to increase way above the rate of inflation, the Republicans' health care proposals this week do nothing to help those Americans struggling to pay these ever-increasing prices.
The three health care bills that Republicans are offering this week are simply a ruse. Furthermore, each of these pieces of legislation has already been passed by the Republican majority and each of these bills have been proven to increase health costs, dismantle the employer-sponsored health insurance base, and increase the number of uninsured Americans.
Republicans will claim their Association Health Plan legislation will lower rates and provide greater access to insurance, but the reality is that AHP legislation would result in less health care access and dramatic increases in premiums for State insurance-based employers. AHPs would fragment and destabilize the small group market, resulting in higher premiums for many small businesses. And the Republican legislation would also allow employers to "cherry-pick," attracting younger, healthier individuals to join AHPs, while leaving older, sicker individuals in the traditional insurance market which results in increased premiums for the remaining pool.
Mr. Speaker, the Republican Health Savings Account legislation creates a tax-favored savings provision with no income limitations. The main reason Republicans want to pass this bill is to create a new tax shelter for the healthy and wealthy while, at the same time, threatening higher health insurance premiums for everyone else.
The Republican PR machine will claim this legislation helps the uninsured by providing a tax credit that would allow the uninsured to set aside up to $2,000, tax free, in a new health savings account to supposedly help pay for health insurance. But unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that most uninsured Americans will be able to take advantage of this program, because they have an extremely difficult time saving $2,000 a year for health care.
Mr. Speaker, the final component of the Republican agenda is medical liability reform. Republicans will claim that this legislation will address the sky-rocketing costs of health care, but Republicans are doing nothing to address spiraling insurance premiums for doctors. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that "Malpractice costs account for a very small fraction of total health care spending; even a very large reduction in malpractice costs would have a relatively small effect on total health plan premiums."
If Republicans truly want to help the uninsured and underinsured, they should set aside their rhetoric and pass three pieces of legislation introduced by the Democrats. First, the Family Care Act expands Medicaid and SCHIP to provide affordable coverage to about 7.5 million working parents. Second, the Medicare Early Access Act provides coverage to 3.5 million people who are over the age of 55, but not yet eligible for Medicare, by allowing them to purchase Medicare coverage. And third, the Small Business Health Insurance Act creates a 50 percent tax credit to help small businesses with the costs of health care.
These Democratic proposals not only offer significant reductions in the ranks of the uninsured, but also rein in spiraling health care costs to our Nation.
Mr. Speaker, Americans deserve results here on the House floor. It is unfortunate that for the next 8 weeks, all they are going to get from the Republican majority is more political spin.