Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. President, I rise today to speak on behalf of the millions of Americans who know our Nation is desperately in need of health care reform. Traveling across Colorado this past year, a common theme surfaced as I spoke with families, health care providers, and businesses alike. They all want a health care system that tackles costs, improves quality, and puts their needs first.
I have heard, as I know the Presiding Officer has in his home State of Delaware, stories of Coloradans who paid a lifetime of health care premiums in order to provide for their families, all to have an insurance company drop their coverage because a wife or a husband or a child became ill.
Visiting with health care providers, I heard about the waste and abuse in our system. They have all pleaded with me to have commonsense reforms that get them back to the business they thought they were entering years ago--the business of caring for their fellow Americans beset by illness and disease.
I heard from small business owners who continue to see double-digit increases in insurance costs, in many cases for the ninth or the tenth or even more years in a row. These small business owners want to see relief, not for themselves but because they do not want to have to choose between laying off workers and leaving their workers vulnerable to medical bankruptcies.
Decade after decade, we see how the fine print of insurance company policies puts shareholder interests above those of American families and how partisanship has prevented the kind of progress everyone agrees is sorely needed.
I have good news. Despite all the ugly rhetoric, distortions, and misrepresentations we have heard, Coloradans and the rest of the country can finally rest assured that someone has put their interests first.
This week, I watched as President Obama signed into law the kind of reforms that will free Americans from the shackles of never-ending cost increases, dropped coverage, and unfair practices that put profits above the provision of care.
Throughout this past fall and winter, I joined you, Mr. President, and the rest of our freshman class in the Chamber repeatedly to talk about the urgent need for health care reform. We shot down false claims, challenged the phony reasoning that was out there, and pointed out where the rhetoric ends and reality begins.
Over the past few days, many more of our colleagues from this side of the aisle have compellingly and eloquently explained how important the new health reform law is to both the American people and the American economy. The fact is that this historic bill signed by the President saves lives, saves money, and it saves Medicare.
Bringing this long debate to a close, I wish to speak directly to the people of Colorado. It is important that they know how these health insurance reforms will benefit their families and the rest of our great State.
As a result of the President signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, the parents of Colorado's 1.2 million children can sleep easy starting this year knowing that insurance companies no longer have the right to deny their kids health care coverage because of a preexisting condition.
Also starting in 2010, almost half a million, 500,000 young adults in Colorado who would otherwise be kicked off their parents' health care policies can maintain that coverage through to their 27th birthday. This is particularly welcome to me, as I know it is for many Coloradans, because I have two college-age kids who fit into the category I just described.
We have 575,000 seniors in our Medicare Program, and for every single one of them, this new law will protect--I want to emphasize that--will protect their guaranteed benefits and immediately allow them to get preventive care with absolutely no copay or out-of-pocket costs. This added benefit, contrary to what we have heard, will increase their health care coverage under the Medicare Program so that our seniors can continue to live happy and healthy lives.
This new law goes to great lengths to help slow the growth of health care costs and, by doing so, it is projected that these lower costs will allow Colorado's employers to hire up to 6,500 new employees in our State. And for as many as 68,000 small businesses, health reform will begin providing millions of dollars in tax credits so they can afford to offer health insurance to their employees.
Yesterday, we sat here and cast 56 votes as Democrats to make final improvements to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That reconciliation measure we passed yesterday will provide prescription drug relief as well for our Colorado seniors. More than 100,000 Colorado seniors, such as my friend Frank Blakely in Colorado Springs, will pay less for prescription drugs.
Right now, these seniors hit what we all know here as the Medicare part D doughnut hole, which means they have to pay thousands of dollars directly out of pocket for their medicines. But beginning this year, every one of these seniors will receive a $250 check to help them offset those costs, and we will begin to close the overall gap in Medicare coverage so that we completely fill this doughnut hole by the year 2020. I know this will be welcome relief to those on fixed incomes all across the United States, because it will free up scarce retirement dollars to visit family members, help pay a grandchild's college tuition or even to help, in some cases, put food on the table.
I think one of the overriding features of health reform is the freedom it will give to Coloradans and hard-working Americans--the freedom to change jobs, to launch a business, to even start a family while knowing that health care coverage will be there for them when they need it. Americans need to know their country won't leave them to fend for themselves when an insurance company denies or drops their coverage. They deserve peace of mind to know that someone is on their side.
Over the last few days we have heard a lot of the same misleading rhetoric that we did back in August by those who were dead set on levying accusations rather than working on real reform. Well, health reform has become the law of the land and the American people don't have to wait any longer for these important reforms. The legislation we passed will establish a sturdy foundation upon which we will build, improve, and strengthen access to health care in America. Will there be mistakes made along the way? I don't doubt it.
I am a lifelong mountain climber, and I know from experience that any difficult climb includes storms, and you make a mistake finding your route along the way. But what matters is that you dust yourself off and you move forward. I think there have been a lot of storms on this journey so far, and it hasn't been perfectly smooth. But it has been in the right direction. Despite our stumbles and twists and turns along the way, we kept our eye on the summit in front of us, where providing quality affordable coverage for every American is a reality.
Every successful expedition, in my experience, has a leader, and I want to take a moment to recognize our leader, Senate Majority Leader Reid. He has literally had the health and well-being of millions of Americans on his shoulders--some would say the weight of the world. That is a heavy backpack. But at the same time he has shouldered that load, been an unwavering advocate for reform, and he has exemplified the American resiliency which has helped make our Nation the greatest Nation on Earth.
I would also like to thank my staff, especially Jake Swanton and John Rayburn, who have worked tirelessly to fight for Colorado and make quality affordable health coverage a reality for millions of Americans.
As I close, I want to say how proud I am that the health care bills we passed this week will modernize our health care delivery system, increase much-needed choice and competition within the health insurance industry, and help put our economy back on track, while clearly improving the financial security of middle-class working families.
This has been an historic week for Colorado and for the American people. The victory, of course, isn't for the Senate or the House, or the President, or for our political parties, it is for the American people. I have certainly been humbled to have been given the opportunity to serve my great State during this unforgettable, long, and sustained debate, and I look forward to the important climbs that still await us as we implement this very important piece of legislation.
Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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