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Public Statements

Health Care Reform

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Health Care Reform

Ms. LEE of California. Mr. Speaker, I first would like to thank my dear friend and colleague, Doctor Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands for anchoring this special order hour. I cannot think of a more fitting person to lead us in a discussion of health care tonight than Dr. Christensen, who is not only a medical doctor, but also the co-chair of the CBC's Health and Wellness Taskforce along with Congressman Danny Davis of Illinois.

Dr. Christensen has been at the forefront of our fight to ensure that health care reform makes significant strides toward eliminating racial and ethnic disparities, and achieving disparities for residents of the U.S. territories. Thank you, Dr. Christensen for your leadership and your hard work.

I'm Congresswoman Barbara Lee of the Ninth Congressional District of California and chairwoman of the 42 member strong Congressional Black Caucus. I stand here brimming with pride and joy because of what we did here last night after such a long journey that began many decades ago.

Yesterday morning members of the Congressional Black Caucus attended church services together, where we were reminded of the moral imperative to reform health care.

Strengthened by the power of prayer we forged ahead with clarity of purpose, courage and determination, undeterred by the losing hateful rhetoric and threatening tactics of anti-health care protesters.

Last night, my colleagues and I cast a historic and monumental vote to improve the health and wellness of millions of Americans who suffer because they are uninsured and under-insured and because of massive gaps in our nation's health care system.

I spend a lot of time in emergency rooms with my 85 year old mother and my sister who has Multiple Sclerosis. I see these people--the uninsured. They are desperate. Many are hard working people who may have lost their jobs, or simply fallen on hard times, or have never even had the opportunity to make their way in society. Some of them can't hold a job because they are chronically ill. This is simply unacceptable.

So, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus cast our votes for all those people who deserve health care but simply can't afford it. We cast our votes for our senior citizens who will see their prescription drug costs go down. We cast our votes for our children and grandchildren, so that they can live longer, fuller and healthier lives. We cast our votes in the memory of those people who didn't have preventive care and died prematurely.

Throughout the long and arduous process culminating in the historic vote last night, many members of the CBC worked tirelessly to make sure that this bill holds insurance companies accountable and included a number of cost-saving provisions. We were vocal advocates for provisions in the bill to combat health disparities, illnesses and diseases that disproportionately affect our community.

The statistics are startling, but they are clear:

Nearly one in five African Americans (19%) is without health care insurance.

African Americans in general spend a higher percentage of their income on health care costs compared to their white counterparts (16.5% vs. 12.2%). However despite spending a larger share of their income on medical care, African Americans face continuing health care disparities.

African Americans also tend to reside in areas without hospitals or hospitals that have limited resources and may affect the quality care they offer. This is particularly a problem for hospitals in predominately African American communities where Medicaid reimbursements are low, charity cares is higher, and there is a shortage of health care providers who find it more difficult to maintain a practice.

African Americans suffer from higher percentages of chronic diseases such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes which are perpetuated by a lack of access to quality care. Currently, 48% of African American adults suffer from a chronic disease compared to 39% of the general population.

To those who suffer from those health disparities, our vote last night carried significance similar to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in that it fulfills a dream that has been elusive for far too long and for far too many Americans.

Among the key provisions in the legislation that CBC members fought to have included are:

Expanded support for community health centers, which play a vital role in expanding access to preventive and other care in our nation's most vulnerable communities.

Key health equity provisions: greater support for programs that will increase the racial and ethnic diversity in the nation's health workforce, as well as improved data collection so that we can better measure health inequities and develop solutions to end all health disparities.

Strengthening the existing Office of Minority Health at HHS, creating new Offices of Minority. Health across HHS agencies, and establishing the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at NIH as an Institute.

Inclusion of coverage for residents of the U.S. territories, including a significant infusion of new Medicaid dollars, as well as access to the Exchange so that Americans in the territories will have access to affordable, high-quality health insurance plans.

The bill guarantees transparency on rates and enables state insurance commissioners to recommend to the National Insurance Commissioner whether a particular insurer should participate in the Health Insurance Exchange, taking into account excessive or unjustified premium increases in making that determination. This will hold private insurers accountable, ensure affordability and help provide quality coverage for American families:

Expansion of community health centers.

This bill makes several immediate reforms that will directly improve the health and wellness of millions of Americans. Some of those provisions are:

Offers tax credits to small businesses to purchase coverage;

Provides relief for seniors who reach the Medicare prescription drug donut hole;

Provides immediate access to insurance for Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition through a temporary high-risk pool;

Requires new plans to cover preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing;

Requires new plans to cover an enrollee's dependent children until age 26;

Prohibits pre-existing condition exclusions for children in all new plans;

Prohibits individual plans from dropping people from coverage when they get sick.

I could go on because the list of all the good things in this bill are many.

So to put it simply, this bill is a victory not only for our constituents, but for all Americans because it will make us a stronger and healthier nation.

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