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Stabenow Opening Statement On Making Health Insurance Affordable For Middle-Class Families


Location: Washington, D.C.

Stabenow Opening Statement On Making Health Insurance Affordable For Middle-Class Families

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) made the following opening statement on health insurance reform to the Senate Finance Committee as they begin amending the chairman's proposal.

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for all of your work on health care this year, and for bringing us together to start this markup. A special thanks to the Finance Committee staff, who have done such a great job of responding to our questions and getting us information as we work through this process.

And a very special thank you to my own staff: Oliver Kim, Kim Love, Alex Sheff, and Kathryn Kietzman.

Mr. Chairman, this is certainly the most important debate we have had since I've become a member of the Finance Committee. America is facing serious challenges because of our current health care crisis.

In my State of Michigan, we have a 15.2% unemployment rate -- the highest in the country. We know that skyrocketing insurance costs are making it hard for our businesses to compete internationally and costing us jobs. People who have lost their jobs are struggling to afford coverage on their own -- or just giving up on it entirely and going without insurance.

We also know that nationally, every six seconds, someone loses their health care -- that's 14,000 people every single day. Every day, 5,000 more people lose their homes to foreclosure because of a health care crisis. And we also know that every year, 45,000 people die because of a lack of health care -- that's more than the number of people who die in car crashes, and more than the number of homicides. It's truly a crisis.

We have to ask ourselves: why in America, the wealthiest country in the world, do we tolerate a situation where someone dies every 12 minutes because they don't have quality health care?

The answer is, "we can't." Not anymore.

The mark we start with today has a number of very positive initiatives.

It changes the focus of health care in this country by changing the incentives to reward quality and keeping people healthy.

It cracks down on the worst abuses of insurance companies.

It creates a real health care safety net so if you lose your job, your family won't lose their health care.

It also strengthens and improves Medicare, by focusing on prevention, improving the quality of care, and giving relief for the "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D.

And it helps young people, many who are just starting their careers and dealing with huge student loan debts, who will be able to keep their family insurance coverage up to the age of 26.

But we also have a lot of work to do to improve this bill and truly deliver on the health care reform that Americans need and deserve.

• We need to make sure insurance stays affordable for people who already have it. Middle-class families who work hard cannot be subjected to unfair excise taxes on their insurance benefits. That's why I'm working with Senator Kerry to lessen the impact of the excise tax for those who are already struggling to afford health care.

• We also need to make insurance affordable for those who don't already have it. I appreciate that this updated mark comes closer to where we need to be, but we still have some work to do to make this affordable.

• And finally, we need to make sure families have a real choice of health insurance plans, including a public health insurance choice, that keeps private insurance companies honest and keeps premiums affordable.

Not only will we help make health care affordable for families, but it's affordable for the country, too. This bill doesn't increase the deficit, and in fact, will reduce the deficit over time. An enormous amount of our federal budget is devoted to health care, and it is critical that we bring down costs over time.

Mr. Chairman, I got my start in public service fighting to save a nursing home in my community. I have been working on health care issues ever since. I came here to do this.

14,000 Americans woke up this morning with health insurance, but will go to bed tonight without it. For their sake, now is the time to get this bill done, and get it done right.

Thank you.

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