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Public Statements

Health Care Reform

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I wish to say that the presentation by the Senator from South Dakota, Mr. Thune, is a strong one and a compelling one. I am also very impressed with his knowledge of the facts and his in-depth analysis of what we are apparently facing. I say ``apparently'' because so far, as has unfortunately been the case, the majority leader has not shared with at least this side of the aisle or anyone I know of on this side of the aisle any of the specifics of the latest proposal. That is very unfortunate.

As the Senator from South Dakota mentioned, the President of the United States, when campaigning, stated categorically that there would be C-SPAN cameras, that there would be Republicans, there would be an open process, and he was specifically addressing the issue of health care reform.

Americans grow cynical from time to time about the things we say during political campaigns. I can only conclude that the statement made by the President during the campaign contributes mightily to not only the issue of health care reform but also the cynicism about real change in Washington. Change has not taken place; the majority rules.

I certainly agree those abuses were committed when Republicans were in the majority in this body, and I saw it, and I fought against it. But it was stated just a little over a year ago that when health care reform came to its period of consideration by the Senate, when the negotiations went on, C-SPAN cameras and Republicans would be present so the American people would be able to see, in the President's words, ``who is there representing the pharmaceutical companies and who is representing the American people.''

Well, if we open it up now, if we opened the doors not far from here, we would see that already a deal has been cut with the pharmaceutical companies. It is an $80 billion deal done in return for $100 million or so in positive ads and in return for punishment to average American citizens because the administration agreed to a prohibition of importation of prescription drugs from Canada that could sometimes save as much as 60 percent on lifesaving pharmaceutical drugs; as well as the elimination of or opposition to competition amongst drug companies to provide prescription drugs to Medicare recipients.

So what they have done by buying off the pharmaceutical companies--by the way, according to the latest reports I read this morning, the head of the pharmaceutical lobby makes over $2 million a year--we have now penalized the American people by preventing them from having choice, as well as seeing the influence of special interests in this country and in our deliberations. It is very unfortunate.

There is a great deal of cynicism out there amongst the American people. It is manifest through tea parties and in other ways. Polling data shows the great dissatisfaction the American people have about the way we do business.

That cynicism has been authenticated by the process we are going through.

I would again urge the majority leader to invite us in to sit down. We have some constructive ideas. We have some thoughts as to how we can reform health care in America. We know there needs to be reform. We have people such as my colleagues, two doctors--Dr. Coburn and Dr. Barrasso--on our side of the aisle, who have extensive hands-on experience with these issues. Why can't we at least at some point--which we should have done a long time ago--be allowed to have input into the behind-closed-doors process that is taking place as we speak?


Mr. President, I wish to also say a few words this morning about an issue that is of great concern to me and is of greater concern throughout the country; that is, the availability of vaccines in order to combat swine flu, known as H1N1. There are long lines around the country. There is scarcity. There is great concern amongst the American people about this problem. Unfortunately, just last week, in a hearing before the Homeland Security Committee, the Secretary of Health and Human Services assured us that it was no problem and that there would be plenty of supplies on hand.

The previous administration conducted the initial analysis, as we know, and worked with the World Health Organization to estimate the magnitude of this worldwide pandemic. A plan was put in place and stakeholders began executing their roles in protecting the public health.

In the fall of 2005, in response to the government's lessons from combating avian flu, Congress provided $6.1 billion in the 2006 supplemental appropriations for pandemic planning across several Federal departments and agencies. Since then, annual funding has been provided to the Centers for Disease Control and the FDA and activities in Health and Human Services to continue work on vaccine development, stockpiling of countermeasures, and assistance to States.

In late April of this year, Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization's Director General, declared ``a public health emergency of international concern'' when the first cases of the H1N1 virus were reported in the United States. National and State plans were in place and orders for vaccines were processed. Among other actions, officials released antiviral drugs from the national stockpile, developed and released diagnostic tests for the H1N1 virus, and developed guidance for the clinical management of patients and the management of community and school outbreaks. The administration requested $9 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to address the situation.

On June 26 the President signed an appropriations bill which provided $1.9 billion immediately and an additional $5.8 billion contingent upon a Presidential request documenting the need for and proposed use of the additional funds. In total, from 2004 through 2009, Health and Human Services alone has received almost $9 billion for pandemic flu preparedness. Again, this doesn't account for the other billions to other agencies.

However, for the $9 billion and counting the government has spent on preparing for pandemic outbreaks, Americans have only experienced frustration at vaccine shortages and the long lines for the limited supply of H1N1 vaccines that are available. This should make all Americans extremely nervous about the government possibly taking control of our health care system.

Three months ago we were told--this is important. Three months ago we were told the CDC expected 120 million to 160 million doses by the end of October. Two months ago the administration's estimate of vaccine availability dropped to 40 million by mid October, with 20 million additional doses rolling out every week. Last week, the estimate dropped again. Now only about 28 million doses are expected to be available by the end of October. Yet the CDC estimates there are at least 45 million high-risk Americans, including pregnant women and children, in need of the vaccine. So according to my math, we are about 20 million doses short.

Unfortunately, the outbreak of the flu is widespread and deaths are accumulating. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

As of October 17, 46 States were reporting ``widespread'' influenza activity and many doctors' offices have been swamped with swine flu patients ..... The U.S. Government has ordered enough vaccine to make up to 251 million doses if needed, but production has been slower than originally anticipated. A total of 11.3 million doses of vaccine have been shipped to U.S. doctors and hospitals and clinics as of Wednesday, according to the CDC, out of a total of 14.1 million doses that manufacturers had shipped to warehouses by that time. By Friday, 16.1 million doses of vaccine had been shipped to warehouses.

In Arizona, State officials estimated a need of 900,000 to 1 million vaccines for my State's 6.5 million residents.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.

Mr. McCAIN. I ask unanimous consent for 2 additional minutes.

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

Mr. McCAIN. However, Arizona has only received 263,000 vaccines as of yesterday. According to the Arizona

Republic, the swine flu vaccine was only available at 35 of the 113 planned clinics in Maricopa County. The article quoted the county's director of public health as stating:

It's a very frustrating situation where we are just not getting what we need. Right now, it is completely out of everyone's control.

On October 24, the Arizona Republic reported:

The lines were long, but the desire intense Saturday as hundreds, possibly thousands, of people waited up to three hours to get in one of today's rarest experiences: a swine-flu shot.

The doses available represented a little more than 1 percent of Maricopa County's population. People were turned away if they did not fall into the high-risk group.

Congress needs to know more information. Obviously, the hearing we had in the Homeland Security Committee last week was, at best, misleading as to the magnitude of this problem. We need more information from the government, and we need to act now and find out how we are going to get enough swine flu vaccine to take care of the citizens of this country. We have already invested $9 billion. I don't think we have a lot to show for it.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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