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Larson: America Can't Afford to Roll Back The Clock on Healthcare


Location: Washington, DC

Rep. Larson: Good morning and thank you for our early bird delivery this morning, but we have a Caucus this morning on the budget. We will receive presentations from Chris Van Hollen, our Budget Chair, who's done an extraordinary job, and the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus as well. The three share something in common and runs significantly throughout thematically what we know is the most critical thing, and that's protecting the security of all Americans, especially as it relates to their Medicare. All three proposals seek to keep the Medicare that seniors have come to know, love and appreciate.

I recently held Congress on the Corner in my district and one after the other, people came up to me and said, "Please fight to keep Social Security the way it is. Please do not let the Ryan budget pass. Keep Medicare as it is so that I can enjoy those benefits."

As we speak, the Supreme Court enters its second day of hearings on the Affordable Healthcare Act, an act that actually strengthened and lengthened Medicare for all of our constituents and provides benefits to people including screenings and pre-existing conditions and leveling the playing field for women and also making sure that children are able to stay on your policy until age 26. These benefits are under siege by Republican presidential candidates, who showed up yesterday at the Supreme Court -- some of the leading thinking of the 8th century when they talk about turning back the clock to the way things were and the way they would like to turn back the clock on the healthcare initiatives that are so vitally important to the American people.

Democrats stand in strong opposition to that. We stand for the Medicare programs. These programs get demonized as they were in the Affordable Healthcare Act [debate]. Let me just say a word here about what they call "death panels". I have a mother who will be 87 next week. She's been in a hospital for the last two and a half years. Two and a half years ago they said she probably didn't have much time to live. She went into hospice. We were blessed and fortunate to have the family around her and talk about her end-of-life and how she wanted it to unfold. I remember her saying, "I don't want to be a burden on anyone." And we all said, "Mom, you're not a burden for us." And she said, "But I want to be in my home and I want to go peacefully. Just make me comfortable." S he had three congestive heart failures. She did not want to be intubated. She didn't want to be kept artificially alive in a vegetative state. She wanted to go with dignity.

Her health got better. So much so she was too healthy to be in hospice, but needed direct care and finds herself in a nursing home with advancing dementia. But always with the security of knowing that she's going to go out, God willing, on her own terms.

Every American ought to be able to have the opportunity to sit down with their doctor and with their family and have this kind of discussion. When we look at costs associated with Medicare, everyone knows that it's the end-of-life decisions that cause for that spike in costs. This is not a state secret, this is a common fact. And to demonize a program that would sit down and bring people together to allow them to make reasonable decisions demonstrates the difference in approaches between the two parties.

I can't tell you and everybody knows the importance of securing the Medicare program. But before we go balancing it on the backs of those recipients, shouldn't we minimally take a look at the subsidies that we provide oil companies first? Shouldn't we take a look at the amount of money that millionaires will still be receiving? And more importantly, shouldn't we look, as Reuters did, at the system itself and look at the unbelievable cost that has occurred amongst the providers of medical devices, of pharma, of insurance, of hospitals, doctors, and the trial bar, before we decide to shift the costs onto the backs of the beneficiaries like my mother and others who receive them?

That's why Democrats are so adamantly behind preserving Medicare as we know it, strengthening the program, expanding that program under the Affordable Healthcare Act, and making sure that that program is both solvent well into the future and providing the necessary benefits that our people richly deserve.

We're going to hear from our Caucus this morning on our budget proposals and, as I said, the overall commitment by this Democratic Caucus is to make sure that we don't roll back Medicare, that we don't voucher Medicare, that we keep it as the program it was designed to be, understanding that things that need to be done within the system to change it can start with a realistic look at a GDP of more than 17 percent in healthcare costs that could be rolled back dramatically by making sure, as President Obama called for, the various groups to make sure that they streamline and get the costs down in their delivery system. I am pleased that the Administration is making progress and much more needs to be done in the area of fraud, but this is all doable without balancing on the backs of our seniors.

Thank you very much. We have time for a couple questions.

Q: What would Democrats do if the Supreme Court does, in fact, find the individual mandate to be unconstitutional? What would be the game plan there? Considering you possibly have to deal with a law that is unconstitutional.

Rep. Larson: Redouble the efforts and take to the streets, understanding that America is with us; understanding what this would mean in terms of women's health alone. What it means in terms of disparity that this Act corrects; disparity between what a women would pay for a health care policy. What it means to people with preexisting conditions.

At those town halls I was talking about, a mother came up to me and said, "I have a nineteen-year-old son. If he's not allowed--who needs a transplant--if he's not allowed to stay on my policy you're giving him a death sentence. There's no way that we can afford this." Person after person, who has been impacted by the Affordable Health Care Act, comes to these hearings and expresses their concern. This is a noble Act that has been passed. It serves the American people extraordinarily well.

I cannot understand the indifference by our colleagues on the other side who would callously end that program as the first act as President of the United States or all the attempts that have been made to roll back the program this Congress, including the Ryan budget. Rolling back preexisting conditions and screenings and making sure that women are on a level playing field as men is something that I think the American people would be outraged about.

There's a lot of work that needs to be done on the Affordable Health Care Act, but most of it stems around making sure that we're getting the pricing right, making sure that when you are at seventeen percent of gross domestic product for the cost of health care could it not be that we need to take a look at the rising cost of medical equipment, of pharma, of insurance, of hospitals, doctors and the trial bar? Shouldn't we be taking a look there first? And what about the fraud and abuse and inefficiencies within the system? Reuters said we could save more than $700 billion annually. The whole program is $954 billion over ten years.

We have the ability to do this. What has been lacking in the Congress is the will. We should be pulling together as a country to make sure that people get to live out their final days in dignity, assured that their country is going to be standing behind them, so they don't go bankrupt over health care issues and so they have an opportunity to get the health care that they need.

You want to turn back the clock and go back to all of the hidden costs that occur in the emergency room and further overload an already overloaded system with more Americans going to get their daily health care there because there's no other place?

Q: Following up on that: what can you do legally? There are a lot of popular benefits in the bill, we know that, but the Supreme court shoots it down, the Supreme Court shoots it down…

Rep. Larson: The Supreme Court is the supreme law of the land. If they shoot it down, then I assure you efforts will be there to rewrite and reconstruct in a manner that provides the opportunity for those citizens. I believe that the Supreme Court is going to uphold the decision. And I'm not a attorney, I'm certainly not Oliver Wendell Holmes or even Justice Learned Hand, but I do believe -- we do believe -- in the Constitution and constructed this bill along those lines and I believe that it will be upheld.

If they strike down a portion of the bill or in striking down a portion of the bill, if it was to cripple the bill, there will be immediate efforts to resurrect it.

The day we that passed this bill in our Caucus I asked John Lewis to say a few words to the Caucus. You may recall the day before the President came and addressed our Caucus and was, in fact, very frank with many members in the Caucus and said, "some of you who vote for this bill are not coming back, but this is the right thing to do for America." John Lewis, as you may recall, and Andre Carson and Emanuel Cleaver, on the way over here encountered an unseemly experience with racial slurs and people spitting, etc. Not many people knew about it, but then we all heard about it on the news that night and there was quite a bit tension in our Caucus. From the Cannon Office Building you could hear outside the echo of "kill the bill."

And I asked John Lewis if he could get up, because people were a little upset about how he had been treated and typical of John Lewis he said, "Pay no attention to what went on yesterday. We have to learn, as we did in the Civil Rights Movement, too look past this and keep our eyes on the prize." And he said, "so I ask you to stay calm and stay together." And he was going to walk away from the mic and then he stepped back and said, "forty five years ago, I walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge arm in arm with fellow citizens who believed strongly in Civil Rights. We faced far more difficult crowds than we are facing out here today. Let's lock arms and go across the street and pass this bill." And we did.

Thank you.

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