BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
By Mr. BARRASSO (for himself, Mr. HATCH, Mr. ENZI, Mr. MCCAIN, Mr. COBURN, and Mr. CHAMBLISS):
S. 2339. A bill to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to require States with failed American Health Benefit Exchanges to reimburse the Federal Government for amounts provided under grants for the establishment and operation of such Exchanges; to the Committee on Finance.
Mr. BARRASSO. Mr. President, yesterday I came to the floor to address remarks made by the majority leader. Just yesterday the majority leader came to the floor and said the Republicans were ``going quiet'' on health care. Senator Reid said ObamaCare is no longer high on the Republicans' radar screen. Yesterday I said that it was certainly still very high on my radar screen and that Republicans have every intention of continuing to focus on the Democrats' health care law and all of its harmful side effects.
Americans all across the country have been feeling those damaging side effects of the President's health care law, and the side effects are getting worse. Hard-working middle-class families who didn't want this health care law in the first place are facing higher premiums. They are facing smaller paychecks. They are facing fewer jobs, fewer doctors, and many other problems as a result specifically of the President's health care law.
Today I want to talk about another side effect of the law; that is, the millions, if not billions, of taxpayer dollars that have been absolutely wasted by bureaucrats who set up State health insurance exchanges that have failed. Under the health care law, States could choose to set up their own exchange or to use the Federal exchange. States got Federal grants to help plan which one they would do. If a State decided to set up its own exchange, it got even more money from Washington to cover the costs.
So how much money are we talking about? Well, according to the Congressional Research Service, the Federal Government has awarded grants of over $7.4 billion as of this March.
People all across the country know the Federal exchange was an absolute train wreck when it was launched. In one State after another, the State exchanges also have been collapsing and costing taxpayers a fortune. Now some of those States have absolutely given up. They have decided they want to scrap their own systems and go into the Federal exchange after all--an option they had at first, but they decided to go first to the State exchange and now it has failed. What they have done is they have spent a lot of taxpayer money--money Washington sent to them. Where is the money? The money is gone. Their system doesn't work, and now what they want to do is have a fresh start.
President Obama says Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the law. I want to see where the people are now coming to the floor to forcefully defend and be proud of this health care law.
I ask the President--is he proud that these ObamaCare exchanges are failing all across the country? Are Democrats who voted for this health care law ready to forcefully defend all the taxpayer dollars that we now know have been wasted? Democrats don't want to talk about the law's expensive side effects or about the Americans harmed by the law.
Republicans have been offering solutions. Today Senator Hatch and I are introducing legislation that would address these State failures and protect taxpayers. After all, that is what Americans want. They want accountability for their hard-earned taxpayer dollars. This bill, called the State Exchange Accountability Act, says that if the State got Federal money to set up its own exchange and later decided to give up and move back on to the Federal exchange, it would have to pay back the money. It is that simple. Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay twice for the mistakes of incompetent State bureaucrats who couldn't set up a working health care exchange. States would have 10 years to pay back the grants. They would have to pay them back in full. I know State budgets are tight, so they wouldn't have to come up with the whole amount all at once. They would pay back 10 percent of the total each year for the next 10 years. These States that walk away from their exchanges are conceding that they wasted the money they received, and it is only fair that these States should repay the American taxpayers.
The failure of these exchanges and the money squandered on them was a side effect of the health care law. Democrats told States they could set up these exchanges and Washington would pay the bill. So some States didn't really care what it cost. They didn't care if the work was being done well or even done at all. As far as they were concerned, don't worry, whether it works or not it is somebody else's money.
Well, this bill I am introducing today tells these State bureaucracies that it is time for them to care about the money they have wasted. This won't fix all of the harmful side effects the Democrats created with the health care law, but it is a start, and it is the right thing to do.
If you want a sense of how big the problem is, look at an article that ran in Politico on Monday this week. The headline is ``Four States in a Fix Over Their Troubled Exchanges.'' The article talks about four State exchanges that basically embraced ObamaCare: Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon. It says that these four State exchanges spent at least $474 million and ``are now in shambles.''
Look at it--Maryland, $118 million; Massachusetts, $57 million; Nevada, $51 million; for Oregon, $248 million of taxpayer money from around the country was sent to Oregon for programs that are now in shambles. So now some of these States want even more money to fix what has gone wrong in the first place.
According to Politico, Maryland spent $118 million to set up its own exchange, and State officials did such a bad job that they are now planning to scrap the whole thing and use software from Connecticut's exchange. Massachusetts spent $57 million. Politico called the program in Massachusetts ``fatally crippled.'' Nevada spent $51 million. Politico says salvaging that exchange ``would be a huge feat.'' Oregon spent $248 million to set up its own exchange. It was such a spectacular failure that CNBC ran a headline on May 5 stating ``FBI probing Oregon's ObamaCare exchange.'' The FBI is probing the exchange. The State plans to use the Federal exchange from now on, getting rid of their State exchange. That is the kind of double-dipping our bill goes after.
Why should Democrats in Washington, DC, be telling taxpayers across America that they have to pay for the failures of State officials in Massachusetts, Nevada, Maryland, Oregon, and other States that may find themselves in the same situation?
Democrats have said and the President continues to say that he wants everyone to have a fair shot. Are Americans from other States who have to pay higher taxes because of these failed exchanges getting a fair shot? Well, they are not.
Our bill will start to give a fair shot to Americans who don't want to pay twice to bail out incompetent State bureaucrats. It will give a fair shot to Americans who want to reclaim some of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
This is just one of many ideas Republicans have offered and will continue to offer to create a patient-centered approach to health care. The plans we have offered will solve the biggest problems families face, which is the cost of care and access to care, problems that seem to have been ignored when Democrats forced this law through Congress. That means measures that would allow small businesses to pull together in order to buy health insurance for employees. Small businesses deserve a fair shot. It means letting people shop for health insurance that works for them and their families--not what the government says is best for them but what they say is best for themselves and their families. People deserve a fair shot at buying a plan that is best for themselves and their families. It means adequately funding State high-risk pools that help people get insurance--people who have disease, people who are sick--without raising the costs for healthier people. These are just a few of the solutions Republicans have offered and continue to offer to give Americans real health care reform and a real fair shot, health care reform that gives people the care they need from a doctor they choose at lower costs, without all of the harmful and expensive ObamaCare side effects.