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Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I thank Senator Brown.
I want to thank my friend from Ohio--and before he leaves, my friend from Oregon as well. We are so proud and happy to have the Senator from Oregon with us as one of our terrific Members, coming from being the speaker of the house in Oregon, and leading on energy and being passionate on health care and jobs. It is just wonderful having the Senator with us. So we appreciate his advocacy on this important issue.
I want to thank my friend from Ohio. I think we have States that are more alike than any two States I can think of in the Senate because of the challenges that have undergone the auto industry and manufacturing--the extent to which we understand that fair trade is important, that health care and jobs are critical. We also fight to protect our Great Lakes. So we have many ways in which we are team partners in the Senate, and I want to thank the Senator from Ohio for his leadership in bringing us together again to speak about a critical part of this health care reform effort.
I also want to recognize the Senator from New Mexico, whom I see on the floor, whom we are very proud to have with us, as well, coming from the House of Representatives, who has done such a wonderful job in transitioning, hitting the ground running. And with the Presiding Officer, the Senator from New Hampshire, who is presiding, we have a fantastic group
of Members who have joined us who are going to help us get health care reform done, as well as tackle energy and a number of different issues. So it is a pleasure and honor to work with you.
As I speak about health care and the importance of having a public insurance option, I first want to take just a moment to note another issue that is very much tied to health care but an action that was taken a while ago--a very concerning action, again, where the Senate Republican leadership chose to block us moving forward on the extension of unemployment insurance.
As our Presiding Officer from New Hampshire knows, having been a leader in bringing us together and putting forth a plan to be voted on, it was incredibly concerning to me that, in fact, the effort and the proposal to extend 14 weeks of benefits for all of the people in all of our States who are currently unemployed or who will soon be unemployed, with an additional 6 weeks for States such as mine with the very highest of unemployment levels, was blocked one more time on the Senate floor.
This is not what we ought to be doing.
When we look at what is happening in our State with about 15 percent unemployment, everyone understands the challenges we are going through. We have people who want to work. They want to work. They are looking for work. They may be piecing together income in a variety of ways. The difference between their being able to keep a roof over their heads for their families and food on their tables right now has been the efforts of extending unemployment that we did with our great new President, President Obama, coming into office and making that a priority. We made it a priority in the Recovery Act. Now we are at a point where we need to extend that.
We expect in Michigan alone that 99,000 people will exhaust their unemployment benefits by the end of this year; tens of thousands of people coming to the unemployment offices. So this is critical for us. We are not going to go away. We are going to keep right back at it until we get this done.
The same thing is true with health care reform because there is a direct relationship. As I start to speak about health care, I wish to say one of the very positive things of the many positive things about the legislation we will be voting on is that we want to strengthen it with a strong public option. One of the very important pieces of this legislation we worked on in the Finance Committee, and supported by the HELP Committee as well, creates a real safety net so if you lose your job, you don't lose your insurance. This is absolutely critical.
We are talking about extending unemployment benefits for people who have been trying to find work and can't find work. Well, what we all know is that when you lose that job, too many people also lose their insurance. Then they lose the house. Then they lose whatever comes next--the car or the kids can't go back to school. So it is all related. In our health care bill, we make sure there is a real safety net and that people who lose their jobs know they will be able to have insurance, and that is very important.
It is also critical, for people who are looking to purchase insurance, that they can get the very best price. It is important that people who have insurance can keep it; that they know what they are paying for they actually get, by the way, which is why the insurance reforms are so important; so you are not dropped right when you get sick or blocked from getting coverage. We know in order to create this new pool for individuals and small businesses that can't find or afford insurance that it is absolutely critical, if we are going to say everybody in the United States of America needs to have insurance, that it be affordable, that it be competitive in the marketplace, and that people be able to have every choice possible available to them. That is what we are talking about tonight because, ultimately, this is about providing real stability and security for American families.
I received a letter from a constituent of mine, Lynn, in Marshall, MI. She wrote:
In the space of two months, my husband's income was cut 25 percent because of the economic downturn. At the same time, our oldest son, 21 years old, was diagnosed with leukemia.
Every parent's worst nightmare.
To date his bills have totaled about $450,000 for treatment. While we currently have insurance, I worry about my son and how his ability to obtain adequate health care will forever be affected by his illness. His leukemia has an exceptionally high cure rate, but how will he afford his own health insurance which will likely affect his ability to stay healthy for the rest of his life. He is only 21 and on the verge of graduating from college. Once he graduates, he will lose his coverage under my husband's plan. His treatment won't even be finished by the time he graduates. I lay awake at night and worry how we will finish his treatment.
Lynn, everybody who has ever had a child worries about this kind of scenario and what could happen for their children. That is why we are here tonight. In the richest country in the world, no parent should have to lay awake at night worrying about how their son or daughter would be able to find the health care they need.
In our reform in the Finance Committee, there is great news from part of what Lynn talked about, and that is we have extended health insurance for young people on their parents' policies until age 26. That is incredibly important and very positive. But when he then goes into the marketplace to find insurance, will he be able to find affordable insurance in this new exchange we set up? The way to guarantee that happens is through a strong public option, a public choice. You don't have to choose it. That is the great thing about America. We are all about choices.
So we make sure there is a real competitor in the marketplace that is pegged to the real costs of health care and that doesn't have to worry about making a profit, that doesn't have to worry about marketing, that doesn't have to worry about other costs, but strictly providing health care and the costs of providing health care in the marketplace. Having that kind of competitor will make sure everybody is honest about the real costs associated with providing health care.
We know there are very powerful interest groups that have lined up to slow down or to stop this bill from passing, and they are bitterly opposed to a public insurance option. They know it will bring down costs, it will hold insurance companies accountable, and will bring down the overall costs for taxpayers because of what we are doing in health care reform, now and on into the future. We don't need to hear from more of those voices. We need to hear from our own constituents who are struggling every day with the rising costs of health insurance.
That is why I created my online Health Care People's Lobby, so people in Michigan can have their voices heard. We have had over 7,000 people respond. I am very grateful we have had hundreds of stories that have been shared with us. I am so grateful for all of those.
Lisa from Novi, MI, signed up for the People's Lobby, and she wrote:
I am one of the lucky ones. We have health insurance and everyone is healthy. However, with just routine doctor visits, the time spent deciphering bills and reconciling what the insurance company paid and what we owe can be overwhelming.
Haven't we all been through that?
Our insurance is a primary reason my husband has stayed with his current employer at a lower salary, because most new job opportunities don't offer coverage. I strongly believe in a public option.
The reason we are here on health care reform and the reason we have a sense of urgency about it is because, as Lisa said, many new job opportunities don't provide health insurance, and we know we have to do better in this country. That is the point of creating a large pool for people who can't find insurance, don't have it through their job, to be able to pool people together and have an insurance exchange. But as I said before, to make sure that works, to make sure it is really affordable for families and for small businesses, we need real competition of a public insurance option.
Another constituent, Glenn from Sterling Heights, is 62 years old. He got laid off in December, and it doesn't look like he will be called back. He writes:
I am too young for Medicare. I have a preexisting condition, so nobody wants to insure me. If I get sick before I can get Medicare, my savings and everything will be wiped out. This is not the way I pictured retirement was going to be. I raised four children, got them through school, and married. Paid taxes and did what I thought was right and moral things to do. I didn't create this mess, but I am sure paying for it.
There are many people in Michigan in that very same situation that I am fighting for every day. In our insurance bill, first we have positive responses to this issue. We are going to stop the banning of insurance because of preexisting conditions. That is extremely important. We have help in this bill for early retirees to make sure we can help with the costs. But to make sure this whole system works together, we need a public insurance choice for Glenn so that if the other options don't work for him at 62 years old, he has a choice where he can go to an option that is affordable and is focused totally on providing health care for him. A public health option would give Glenn some hope. It would give him security until he is able to get to Medicare, so that he wouldn't lose everything if he had a medical crisis.
Glenn is not alone. We know 62 percent of bankruptcies occur because of the medical crisis. We know 5,000 people every day lose their homes to foreclosure because of the medical crisis.
I have literally received thousands of e-mails and stories from people around Michigan, and I wish to thank everyone who has e-mailed me, who has shared their story. We have literally thousands of stories of people who have gone through so many different experiences of worrying about whether they are going to lose their insurance, trying to figure out how to pay for their insurance, not being able to find insurance because of a preexisting condition, not being able to find something affordable as an individual going out into the marketplace. We have heard thousands and thousands of stories from Michigan, and they all say act now. Give us choice, real choice and competition.
We know having a public insurance option is the way we guarantee all of this fits together. So for my constituents--for Lynn, for her son, for Lisa and Glenn, for the 11,000 others who have signed up for the People's Lobby--I urge all of my colleagues to join with us to make sure with all of the pieces we have put into these bills that are so important and so positive that we bring it all together by including a public health insurance choice for people so that if the private, for-profit companies in the exchange are not able to give people affordable insurance, they know ultimately they can find it.
I thank you very much, Mr. President. I wish to thank my friend from Ohio again for his passion and his time and efforts, and I yield the floor back to him.
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