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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I want to speak for a moment on health care. We are hearing a lot, as we hear from colleagues, many colleagues--not every one but many colleagues on the other side of the aisle--about the need to be against health care reform, to be a ``no.''

We all know that saying no to health care reform means we are going to have the status quo. ``No'' equals the status quo. For too many families, too many businesses all across this country, that is absolutely not acceptable.

The status quo works, it is good--for special interests making profits off the current system. But it is bad for American families, American small businesses, American manufacturers that are trying to pay the bills and trying to make sure health care is available for the employees.

We need change. We are here because the system, with all of its good parts--and there are many strengths in the American system--is also broken in too many cases for people. We want to build on what works and what is great and we want to fix what is broken.

Right now our current health care system is bankrupting too many families. We know over 60 percent of bankruptcies are linked to medical expenses, and 75 percent of families who file bankruptcy actually have health insurance. Those with insurance, on average, are putting out medical expenses of over $18,000 when they file--even though they have an insurance policy.

There are many families--we are not only talking about those who do not have health insurance, but those who do who find themselves in very difficult situations.

I am constantly amazed when I hear the argument about: We can't do any kind of reform because reform means putting a bureaucrat between your doctor and yourself. You and your doctor can't make decisions about what you need for your health care.

Do you know who stands between you and your doctor right now? An insurance company, an insurance company bureaucrat. Your doctors can't just give you whatever tests they wish. You are not able to get whatever care you need for your family. The first call they make is to the insurance company, and it decides.

Reform is about putting health care decisions back in the hands of doctors and patients and being able to create a system that actually works for people. That is what it is all about.

I set up online the Health Care People's Lobby for those I represent in the State of Michigan so they could share their stories. We have a lot of folks lining the halls who represent all kinds of interests, all kinds of special interests, and they tell us what they think should be happening or not happening. But in Michigan we have set up the Health Care People's Lobby so people can share their stories about the real world operating under the current system.

If the system worked today, there would be no reason for us to be here. We would be working on something else. But the fact is, we are spending twice as much on health care as any other country and have 47 million people at any one time who do not have health insurance. Those two numbers don't add up.

On top of that, people who are currently covered are battling every day to try to get what they thought they were paying for or to make sure their family is covered or that test or procedure or medicine can be covered.

One constituent of mine in Michigan, Sandra Marczewski from Waterford, MI, wrote to me that she and her husband have been without insurance for 7 months now. She writes:

You have no idea the fear I walk around with every day.

That is too many people in Michigan, over a million people in Michigan, without insurance altogether, and millions more who are fearful every day if they lose their job, their health care goes with it, for themselves and their families. People every night are putting the kids to bed and worrying about whether someone is going to get sick, saying a prayer: Please, God, don't let the kids get sick. Don't let me get sick. I have to be able to go to work so I can make sure we still have our health care.

There are a lot of people, as I mentioned before, who make a lot of money off of the status quo, off of the current system. It is no surprise they don't want to change it. All the ads we see, all the things going on, all the scare tactics that are going on--and there are plenty of scare tactics going on right now--all of that is about trying to scare people and raise red flags. It is easy just to be no, no, no. We certainly hear that around here all the time, people who are just saying no to any kind of progress or change or making things better for people.

The reality is, the status quo for a lot of folks means more profit, and that is underlying a lot of the motivation of what is going on right now. Our job is to make sure the American people can afford health care and have the care they need for their families. For too many families, the status quo means insecurity, expenses, and fear that come along with not knowing whether they are going to be able to afford the health care they have from month to month and whether they will, in fact, even have health care.

We are here because when it comes to health care, American families and businesses are in a serious crisis, and they are asking us for action. The status quo is not good enough anymore. It is not working. It is going to bankrupt families, businesses, and the country. High health care costs are causing cuts in benefits, increases in premiums, adding to the ranks of the uninsured at alarming rates. Even those who have insurance, as I indicated before, are feeling the pain of the current system. Every day in America families are forced to choose a different doctor because their health care plan was changed, because their employer can no longer afford the old plan they had.

Skyrocketing health care costs make American businesses less competitive in the global economy. It costs us jobs, and I can speak directly to that coming from the great State of Michigan.

Every day in America, families see their health care plan benefits eroding because they cannot keep up with high premiums, copays, and deductibles. Every day in America, people decide to skip a doctor visit and the medication and treatment they know they need because they cannot afford the payment--in the greatest country in the world--because the expense is too high. Year after year, as health care costs increase, American families are losing the very parts of their health care they value most: their choice of doctor, hospital, and insurance plans; their choice of treatments; the security and stability that comes from knowing they are covered if anything goes wrong. That is what we are about fixing. That is what we will fix as we do health care reform.

Recently, Families USA found that the average costs of family coverage in the workplace rose 78 percent in 7 years--78 percent. During those years, health insurance company profits ballooned 428 percent. At the same time, wages went up about 15 percent. So wages go up 15 percent, health insurance profits go up 428 percent, and premiums just keep rising for businesses and individuals.

The fact is, we cannot wait to get started on reform. The status quo is not acceptable and ``no'' equals the status quo. So we are here working with colleagues to get it done. Doing nothing is not acceptable.

Recently, the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report that projects if Federal reform efforts are not enacted within 10 years, the cost of health care for businesses could double and the number of uninsured could rise to over 65 million people with middle-class families being hit the hardest. The report shows if health care reform is not enacted, individuals and families would see health care costs dramatically increased.

Total individual and family spending on premiums and out-of-pocket costs could increase 68 percent in the next 10 years. I cannot imagine 68 percent out-of-pocket costs. That is if we do nothing, if we listen to those just saying no. Even under the best-case scenario, health care costs would likely increase, according to this report, at least 46 percent. And I can tell you absolutely wages are not going to go up 46 percent. Businesses could see their health care costs doubled within 10 years. The report found that employer spending on premiums would more than double, and even in the best-case economic condition, employer spending on health care will rise 72 percent. The result would likely be far fewer Americans being able to be offered insurance or accepting employer-sponsored insurance. Estimates suggest a drop of 56 percent of Americans who are now covered by their employers, dropping from 56 to 49 percent in 10 years.

So there are many numbers. There are numbers that relate to the public programs of Medicaid and children's health insurance and the increased cost there as well and what will happen if we do nothing. The amount of uncompensated care in the health care system will increase, and the worst-case scenario: the total of uncompensated care could double.

By the way, when we say ``uncompensated care,'' that does not mean somebody is not paying for it. That is why our premiums, if you have insurance, go up so much. It means someone can't afford to see a doctor, can't take their children to the doctor, so they don't get the tests on the front end that they need or they don't see a doctor. They wait until they are really sick, and then they go to the emergency room. They are served, as they should be, and it is the most expensive venue in which to do ongoing care for people. But they are served, and then guess what happens. Everyone who has insurance sees their rates go up to pay for it.

That is what it means when we say that covering the uninsured will lower costs as we go out. I mean it will take time to do this, but over time what we are doing is working to change the way we pay for health care now because we pay for it in the most expensive way, by ignoring the problem, not focusing on health and wellness and primary care but waiting until people are in the worst possible situation: they go to the emergency room, they get care when they are sicker than they otherwise would be if they could see a doctor. And then we pay for it. That is what we want to change and will change under health care reform.

So this is about many facets. We know we have a system in America that works for many; they are blessed. We are blessed to have health insurance. For the many who have insurance, it allows them to cover their family needs. The system works well. But for many others it does not. And the reality is, we all pay for a system that does not work effectively for everyone. We all end up paying because the reality is, you can say: Well, I am not going to buy a car, I do not need car insurance; I am not going to buy a house, I do not need house insurance, but sooner or later, you are going to get sick, and just because you don't have health insurance does not mean there is not going to be a cost for yourself and your family.

We are a great country. We can do better than what we are doing today. We have to do better. We are working hard to have a bipartisan effort that will move reform forward in this country, to make a real difference to
change the system so it works for everyone and begins to lower the cost over time of what is happening, the explosion in health care costs in this country.

The option of saying no is not good enough. ``No'' equals the status quo. We just cannot have that. The public gets it. It is time for us to get it as well and move forward. I yield the floor.


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