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Congressional Budget for the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2007--Continued

Location: Washington, DC




Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I send an amendment to the desk and ask for its immediate consideration.


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to offer an amendment to make veterans health care funding assured and mandatory.

Real security means supporting our troops abroad and making sure they have the body armor and the equipment they need, but it also means supporting them when they come home. It means giving our current and our future veterans the health care they need and deserve.

The amendment I am offering today provides full funding for veterans medical care to ensure that the VA has the resources necessary to provide quality health care in a timely manner to our Nation's sick and disabled veterans.

The problem we face today is that resources for veterans health care are falling behind demand, and we know this because every year we are trying to address the shortfall.

In 1993, there were about 2.5 million veterans in the VA health care system. Today there are more than 7 million veterans enrolled in the system, over half of whom receive care on a regular basis.

Despite the 160-percent increase in patients over the last decade, the VA has received an average of only a 5-percent increase in appropriations during this administration. Some of my colleagues will say this amendment isn't necessary because there have been funding increases over the last several years. They also say we do not need to create another entitlement program. Over the last 2 years, we have seen a 500-percent increase in the number of veterans seeking care from the VA who have been serving in Iraq and serving in Afghanistan. But the administration's budget projects that the VA will treat 109,191 veterans next year, and this falls over 35,000 veterans short of the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans the VA currently treats. So we see a 500-percent increase in the number of veterans coming home after serving us bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet their budget assumes that there are 35,000 fewer--fewer than last year--fewer Iraq and Afghanistan veterans we are going to treat next year. These numbers do not make sense.

Last year's budget is also a case study on why we need to have assured funding for VA health care. In total, Congress provided an additional $3 billion for veterans health care because the administration grossly miscalculated the need for veterans health care.

We need to finally move this into a category where every year those veterans coming home who need health care will know that the dollars are there based on their eligibility, based on their service, based on their need--not based on a debate on the floor in the Congress about how much we are willing to spend to address their health care needs. This should not be a year-to-year debate and commitment; this should be an assured commitment that the dollars will be there. Just as they are for Medicare, for Medicaid, our veterans ought to know that every year, their funding for critical health care services will be assured.

Today's soldiers are tomorrow's veterans. America has made a promise to these brave men and women to provide them with the care they need--not based on a debate on how much we want to spend or calculations year to year on the numbers that folks think may or may not seek care. This ought to be about making sure that every one of our brave men and women coming home, whether it is from the current wars or whether it is our World War II vets or any other war or conflict in which our soldiers have been serving--when they need health care as veterans, we will fulfill our promises to make sure it is there for them.

I urge my colleagues to support this very important amendment, supported by all of the major veterans organizations in this country. It is time to get this done and get it done right.

I yield the floor.


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, my amendment is about guaranteeing that every veteran in America has the health care they were promised and they deserve. Over the last 2 years, we have seen a 500-percent increase in the number of veterans seeking care from the VA who served in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. But this budget falls over 35,000 veterans short of the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans whom the VA currently treats. And remarkably, the President's budget projects fewer vets will seek mental health care, which is absolutely incorrect. If you believe, as I do, the men and women who have fought for our country should not have to fight every day, every year, for the health care they need, I urge you to vote yes on this amendment.


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I send an amendment to the desk.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report.

The assistant legislative clerk read as follows:

The Senator from Michigan [Ms. Stabenow] proposes an amendment numbered 3164.

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that further reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To establish a reserve fund to allow for deficit-neutral legislation that would provide seniors with a prescription drug benefit option that is affordable, user-friendly, and administered directly by the Secretary of Health and Human Services)

At the end of title III, insert the following:


The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations, aggregates, and other appropriate levels and limits in this resolution for a bill or joint resolution, or an amendment thereto or conference report thereon, that would--

(1) provide all Medicare beneficiaries with a Medicare-administered prescription drug plan option, while preserving the private prescription drug plan options;

(2) ensure that Medicare beneficiaries pay the lowest possible prescription drug prices by directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers with respect to the purchase price of covered part D drugs on behalf of beneficiaries enrolled in the Medicare-administered prescription drug plan;

(3) improve the part D standard prescription drug benefit; and

(4) guarantee that Medicare beneficiaries receive the FDA-approved drugs they need by preventing prescription drug plans and MA-PD plans from ending coverage of drugs, or imposing restrictions or limitations on coverage of drugs, that were covered when the beneficiary enrolled in the plan until the beneficiary has the opportunity to switch plans, with an exception to such guarantee for brand name drugs for which there is a generic drug approved under section 505(j) of the Food and Drug Cosmetic Act that is placed on the market during the period in which the guarantee applies;

by the amount provided in such measure for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit for the period of fiscal years 2007 through 2011.

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, this amendment would create a deficit-neutral reserve fund to provide seniors with the one prescription drug choice that they want, which they don't currently have, and that is an affordable prescription drug benefit administered directly through Medicare.

As you know, the current system has a lot of headaches right now. There are a lot of private plans--over 70 in Michigan--and there has been mass confusion. A lot of folks are actually paying more for drugs under this Part D program than they were before.

My amendment would give our seniors a new option, a Medicare-guaranteed option. Seniors today can get their Part A and Part B benefits either through a private plan or a traditional Medicare benefit plan. But they don't have that choice for their medicine. This would give them that choice. It would also direct the Secretary of HHS to negotiate drug prices on behalf of seniors choosing to get their medicines through Medicare.

This amendment simply gives seniors and disabled persons the real choice they want, which is a Medicare prescription drug benefit, where you go to Medicare and you can sign up and you know the copay and the premium. You go to the pharmacy and get your medicine. I ask for your support.

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