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Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009


Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I thank very much Senator Baucus.

I come to the floor to talk about the many ways in which this bill will have a positive impact for seniors.

Over the past year, we have seen confusion about what health care reform will mean for Americans and particularly for seniors. I had hoped that once the Senate voted to move forward with debate on one merged bill, we could offer some definitive answers on how health reform will help them. Unfortunately, here we are on the floor, continuing to send mixed messages about some very concrete provisions. As chairman of the Aging Committee, I wish to help set the record straight for older Americans.

This health reform bill is not going to cut Medicare benefits. Independent groups such as the AARP and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare have said this bill will strengthen Medicare and not harm it. AARP believes this bill will transition Medicare to a more efficient system, where quality health care outcomes are rewarded and waste, which experts believe accounts for up to 30 percent of Medicare spending, is reduced.

In terms of the cuts to Medicare Advantage, this bill will only cut back on overpayments to these private Medicare plans. Benefits will not be affected. AARP also supports these cuts because they understand that most of the overpayments are going to insurance company profits, not to seniors' benefits, and that this overspending is putting Medicare on a faster path to insolvency. Experts say by making these cuts, health reform will extend the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by 5 years, without making one cut to guaranteed benefits.

I understand people complain that this bill is too long. But any bill that seeks to offer choice and meet the needs of so many Americans is, by necessity, complex. We cannot gloss over these vital issues. So I would like to take a minute to share with you some of the provisions that have not received as much attention but are, nevertheless, crucial to improving America's health care system.

There is a lot in this bill for older Americans, retirees, and those planning ahead for a healthy and happy long life. The Aging Committee has worked closely with the leadership of the HELP and Finance Committees to improve several of our provisions, most of which have bipartisan support. I wish to particularly thank Senator Baucus, Senator Dodd, Senator Harkin, and Majority Leader Reid for being so willing to work with us on these important issues.

We have enlisted help from seniors groups of every stripe to ensure health reform makes commonsense improvements that, in some cases, are desperately needed.

This bill will significantly improve the standard of care in nursing homes nationwide for the first time in 22 years. I thank my colleague, Senator Grassley, for working together to make sure this important issue was not overlooked as part of health reform. In and of itself, this is a huge undertaking, but it is just one piece of the puzzle to comprehensively reform our health care system.

This bill will also train and expand the health care workforce so they are prepared to care for the growing elderly population. By implementing recommendations from the Institutes of Medicine, we will begin to address the severe shortage we face of direct care workers.

This bill will protect vulnerable patients by creating a nationwide system of background checks for long-term care workers. This policy is more than just a good idea in theory. We have implemented it in seven States and seen its results. Comprehensive background checks are routine for those who work with young children, and we should be protecting vulnerable seniors and disabled Americans in the same way.

This bill will make it easier for seniors to get the care they need in their own homes because when it comes to long-term care, one size does not fit all. The goal of long-term care should be to allow older or disabled Americans to live as independently as possible.

This bill will help update our current long-term care system in order to offer choices tailored to an individual's needs. It will also help to alleviate the huge financial and emotional burden on married couples who need long-term care. I worked with my colleague, Senator Cantwell, to ensure that married couples who receive care in their home and community are not required to spend the vast majority of their assets to receive assistance.

The committee has also helped to include a provision that will benefit all Americans regardless of age by helping to lower the costs of prescription drugs and medical devices.

Our policy aims to make transparent the influence of industry gifts and payments to doctors.

Although these are only a few of the Aging Committee's priorities, this bill makes many other improvements to our current health care system for older Americans.

The Senate bill will reduce the cost of preventive services and add a new focus on paying doctors to keep patients well and not just paying them for when their patients get sick.

Today, seniors pay 20 percent of the cost of many preventive services. By eliminating the copayment and deductibles through Medicare for important services such as immunizations, cholesterol screenings, bone calcium-level screenings, and colonoscopies, we will help save lives as well as lower health care costs.

The bill will also provide for the first time an annual wellness visit at no cost to the beneficiary. Patients will be able to receive a personalized health risk assessment for chronic disease, have a complete review of their personal and family medical history, and receive a plan for their care.

This bill will remove the ability of insurance companies to deny access to consumers based on preexisting conditions. We know having health care is essential throughout one's life from beginning to end, but many older Americans count the days until they become eligible for Medicare because they are not able to find insurance coverage at any cost due to a health condition in their past.

I could go on about the many other improvements, small and large, that will benefit our Nation's seniors, but I will stop here and simply urge my colleagues to work to educate seniors and not scare them about the important changes this bill will make to provide them with better health care at lower cost.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.


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