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Public Statements

Hearing of the Senate Finance Committee - "Health Care Entitlements: The Road Forward"

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, today championed Massachusetts' landmark health reforms at a Finance Committee Hearing on "Health Care Entitlements: The Road Forward." Governor Deval Patrick testified before the committee.

"Before the Washington health reform debate began in 2008, the Bay State had already demonstrated to the rest of the nation that universal coverage was not just a moral imperative, but that it was actually achievable. Massachusetts is known for its revolutionary spirit, so it's no surprise that we paved the way for national health reform. In our ongoing pursuit of cost containment, I'm convinced Massachusetts will once again lead the way," Senator Kerry said.

Senator Kerry's opening statement, as prepared for delivery, is below:

Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Hatch, thank you for providing me with the opportunity to introduce The Honorable Deval Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Today's hearing will examine the role of Medicare and Medicaid in federal deficit reduction. Let me just say that no other Governor in the nation can speak with the same authority on these programs in the context of universal coverage.

Governor Patrick has been tasked with implementing the landmark Massachusetts health reform law that was enacted five years ago. Before the Washington health reform debate began in 2008, the Bay State had already demonstrated to the rest of the nation that universal coverage was not just a moral imperative, but that it was actually achievable.

Because of the 2006 Massachusetts health reform legislation we have the highest rate of health care coverage in the nation--98 percent of our residents have health care coverage, including 99.8 percent of our children. That is something we can all take great pride in. So many critics said it just couldn't be done.

Contrary to the partisan rhetoric that health reform would push everyone into public programs and erode private health insurance, employer-based coverage is growing in Massachusetts, even as it has declined in most states. In Massachusetts, 76 percent of employers now offer coverage; the national average is just 60 percent.

Health reform has improved access to care in Massachusetts. People are more likely to receive care, such as doctor visits, preventive care visits and dental care now than they did before health reform. In the last year, 84 percent of Massachusetts residents had at least one visit to a doctor, and 76 percent had a preventive care visit.

We have accomplished all of this while public support for Massachusetts health reform has grown from 53 percent in 2009 to 63 percent today.

Not only does Governor Patrick know how to effectively implement universal health coverage, he also keenly understands the interrelationship of federal health programs. Just as in national health reform, Medicaid represents the foundation of our state effort to expand health coverage.

Like a handful of other states, Massachusetts has already expanded our Medicaid program beyond federal requirements. The Affordable Care Act increases Medicaid eligibility for all non-elderly parents and childless adults, children, and pregnant women with income up to 133 percent of poverty. More than one in three uninsured Americans has income below the poverty level. Eroding Medicaid eligibility will increase the number of uninsured Americans and severely undermine national health reform.

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan's budget slashes Medicaid by $1.4 trillion over the next decade and converts it to a block grant. This budget proposal would result in a loss of more than $23 billion in health benefits for Massachusetts residents and 540,000 could see their coverage cut entirely. Most of the savings from this proposal would come from shifting costs on to states, which will then cut benefit packages for poor seniors, people with disabilities and low-income children, cut already-low payments to providers, or both.

Chairman Ryan calls his budget the "Path to Prosperity", but that's not where its path would take our seniors. At least two-thirds of the over $4 trillion in budget cuts come from programs serving those of modest means. To be clear, the House budget is not about reducing the debt. It is about putting in place Republican priorities -- increasing tax cuts for the wealthy while slashing social programs.

Chairman Ryan also proposes to eliminate Medicare as we know it and replace it with a voucher paid directly to private insurance companies. The value of the voucher will be about $8,000 on average and it's paid directly to private insurance companies. It will fail to keep pace with increases in the cost of health care so its value will decline every year, meaning that future seniors won't be able to get the benefits they need or even end up uninsured.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Chairman Ryan's proposal would double health care costs for seniors as compared to the current Medicare system. In Massachusetts, over one million seniors and people with disabilities rely on Medicare for their health care coverage. The House plan means the average senior would have to pay $6,000 more for Medicare in 2022 and $11,000 more in 2030.

Their budget is not about controlling health care costs, it's about shifting the costs on to seniors, children, and those with the most vulnerable in our society. And it stands in stark contrast to the Affordable Care Act which put Medicare on the path to long-term savings by testing out the most promising models of payment reform that reward the quality of care delivered instead of the quantity of tests ordered and services performed.

Massachusetts is known for its revolutionary spirit, so it's no surprise that we paved the way for national health reform. In our ongoing pursuit of cost containment, I'm convinced Massachusetts will once again lead the way.

Governor Patrick is proposing a host of reforms that would lower health care costs in Massachusetts by improving the quality of care and delivery of service. These reforms build off the proposals in the Affordable Care Act and represent the right approach to transforming health care delivery systems by reorienting payment incentives and bending the curve of growth in national health care spending.

I look forward to today's witness testimony and to having a much-needed factual discussion about the role of Medicare and Medicaid in federal deficit reduction.


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