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Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2005

Location: Washington DC

HELP EFFICIENT, ACCESSIBLE, LOW-COST, TIMELY HEALTHCARE (HEALTH) ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - July 28, 2005)


Ms. PELOSI. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from Colorado (Ms. DeGette) for yielding me this time and for her leadership on issues that relate to the health and well-being of the American people.

I also want to salute the two distinguished ranking members, first the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Conyers) of the Committee on the Judiciary for his leadership on this important legislation; and I especially want to acknowledge the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell), who this year celebrates his 50th anniversary in Congress, and every day of those 50 years he has worked to improve access to quality health care for all Americans. But particularly on this 40th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, it is worth noting the contributions of the gentleman from Michigan in providing health care security for millions of Americans and for upholding the fundamental principle that Democrats believe in: Health care is a right, not a privilege.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to the Republican medical malpractice bill. Let me begin with this simple fact: Under President Bush, 5.2 million more Americans have joined the ranks of the uninsured. Today, 45 million Americans have no health insurance. The bill before us does not, nor does any other Republican bill during this so-called Health Week, provide health insurance to one single American.

This bill is not about solving the urgent health insurance crisis that affects millions of American families, nor is it about improving our health care system, containing costs, or even lowering medical malpractice insurance premiums. Instead, the Republican medical malpractice bill, first and foremost, is a windfall to the big drug companies at the expense of Americans who have been injured or killed by harmful and unsafe drugs. Once again, protecting the big drug companies is at the top of the Republican agenda.

The Republicans have attempted to hide the true purpose and the real reason for this bill. It contains a special liability waiver for drug companies for the types of injuries caused by drugs. Under this Republican bill, when Americans are injured, or even killed, by drugs that have been negligently marketed, they will not be able to obtain justice and hold drug companies wholly accountable.

The Republican leadership, beholden to the pharmaceutical companies, refused to allow amendments that would strike this unjust provision. As with the Medicare prescription drug bill, where Republicans prohibited the government from negotiating for low prices for seniors, and forbade Americans from purchasing lower-priced drugs from Canada, this is yet another example of the Republicans being the handmaidens of the pharmaceutical industry.

The Republican medical malpractice bill is an extreme bill that is an injustice to consumers, and it unconscionably rewards irresponsible drug companies. If we are to remain a Nation that seeks justice for all, the special liability waiver for drug companies must be removed. Unfortunately, the Republicans refused to permit the consideration of the Emanuel-Berry amendment to remove this unjust and reprehensible provision.

Apart from pandering to drug companies, this bill utterly fails to achieve its stated purpose. It will not lower medical malpractice insurance premiums, nor does it address the real cause. The real cause of high malpractice premiums is not the payouts for malpractice claims. Former Missouri State Insurance Commissioner Jay Angoff issued a recent study showing the amount collected in premiums by major medical malpractice insurers has doubled. The amount received in premiums has doubled, while the claims paid out have remained flat, resulting in excessive profits and excessive reserve surpluses.

The Angoff study found that insurance companies are charging far more for malpractice insurance than actual payments or estimated future payments warrant. This finding is also supported by numerous studies that document that in States that have enacted caps or damage awards, they have not seen their premiums for malpractice insurance lowered.

Rather than addressing insurance companies' refusal to lower rates, the Republican bill instead interferes with the rights of injured Americans to be compensated for their injuries and have their claims heard by a jury of their peers. If enacted, the cap on damages would severely harm women, children, and the elderly who have been injured. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership did not allow the Democratic substitutes by the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Conyers) and the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell) to be offered.

The Democratic substitute supports sensible approaches that permit only valid claims to go forward. More significantly, the Democratic substitute addresses real causes for premium increases and offers real solutions for the doctors. It repeals the antitrust exemption for insurance companies. It provides targeted assistance to help physicians stay in crisis areas.

We all respect the magnificent contribution that doctors provide to our society. It is not only a profession, it is a vocation, and we literally could not live without them. So it is with great respect for them that I say they deserve better than this bill, which purports to help them.

President Harry Truman said it so well: ``The Democratic party stands for the people. The Republican party stands, and always has stood, for special interests.'' That was true almost 60 years ago when he said it, and it is certainly true today. Let us uphold the public interest. Let us stand up to the big drug and insurance companies, and let us oppose this unjust bill.


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