Health Care Reform

Senator Kerry Challenges Republicans to Step Up for the Uninsured

WASHINGTON, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–October 13, 2009.  Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), a senior member of the Finance Committee, today addressed his Republican colleagues before the Committee’s final passage of comprehensive health care legislation.

“Should we add another 20 million Americans to the ranks of the uninsured over the next decade?” Senator Kerry asked in a challenge to the committee’s Republican members.  “Because if we fail to act now, that’s exactly what will happen.”

Several Kerry provisions, including an excise tax on costly insurance plans, lowering health care costs through reinsurance, providing tax credits for small business, and eliminating discriminatory practices toward women in the individual market, will be included in the final committee bill this week.  A full list of Sen. Kerry’s provisions is attached.

The full text of Sen. Kerry’s statement as prepared is below:

Mr. Chairman, first of all I have to commend you for your commitment to health care reform.   For years, you have worked diligently on this issue. The mark before us not only reflects your hard work, but also accomplishes exactly what you set out to do.

The mark spends less than $900 billion on health care reform and actually lowers the deficit.  But more importantly, it makes health care affordable for the millions of uninsured Americans and will result in 94 of them having health insurance.

A year ago June, this Committee started its work in earnest, with a day-long summit with experts.  Many of the ideas we discussed that day shaped the mark before us. 

At the summit, we learned the value of our employer based system and how important it is that we not weaken it. But we also learned from Massachusetts that coverage can be improved significantly.  In fact, the exchanges in the mark are modeled somewhat after the Connector in Massachusetts.

Our votes on this mark are among the most important we will ever take, and I think it’s vital that not only my colleagues but also the American public fully understand what we are voting on today.

So, my colleagues on the opposite side of the dais, let me ask you this: Should we add another 20 million Americans to the ranks of the uninsured over the next decade?  Because if we fail to act now, that’s exactly what will happen. Today, 46 million Americans go without health insurance. That number will grow to 66 million by 2019 unless we pass the Chairman’s Mark.  The Mark will extend coverage to 94 percent of Americans by 2019.  But if you want to increase the number of uninsured Americans, then you should oppose the Chairman’s Mark.

And let me ask you this:  If you want health care costs to consume an ever increasing share of household incomes, forcing an increasing number of Americans to file for bankruptcy due to medical bills?  If so, then you should vote against the Chairman’s Mark today.  Because the Chairman’s Mark goes a long way toward helping make coverage more affordable for Americans. It provides premium and cost-sharing assistance to families living moderately above the poverty line. It expands Medicaid to provide quality health care coverage to our most vulnerable Americans.  And it requires insurance companies to limit out-of-pocket expenses to all consumers and requires them to cover preventive care for free.

And let me ask you this: If you want insurance companies to continue to deny coverage to Americans based on pre-existing conditions? If you think so, you should definitely vote against the Chairman’s Mark.  And if you believe women should continue being charged about 40 percent for the exact same insurance coverage as men, then the Chairman’s Mark isn’t for you, because the Chairman’s Mark prohibits these outrageous practices.

And let me ask you this: If you believe we should continue spending nearly 50 percent more per person on health care than any other country – without actually getting any healthier?  If so, then by all means oppose the Chairman’s Mark because it contains a host of provisions designed to improve the quality of care provided to patients while realigning payment systems to reward high quality care.

And let me ask you this: If you believe the government should just stand by and do nothing as the number of small businesses offering health benefits continues to decline? Well, if so, the Chairman’s Mark isn’t for you. The Mark includes important provisions to help small businesses provide health insurance to their employees. It would allow small business owners to join together to purchase insurance and enhance their buying power. And it includes $23 billion in small business tax credits to help small businesses provide affordable health insurance.

I am pretty certain that if each of us on the dais put together our own health care bill, we would have a different result than what is before us now.  I would have included a public option, and I will continue to support the efforts of my friends Senator Rockefeller and Senator Schumer to do just that.  A public plan is essential if we want to lower costs and increase choice and competition in the health insurance market.

The mark is not perfect, but the good far outweighs the bad.  It reflects numerous hours of grueling work and hard-fought compromises.  There are still a few issues that I will continue to work on as this mark makes its way through the legislative process.  For example, I am concerned that the threshold on the high cost insurance tax is too low and the provision impacts more policies than intended.  But I’m confident we can work together to strike the right balance of lowering health care spending without harming middle class families.

Make no mistake, though. What is before us is a solid proposal that meets our requirements.  We should be proud of the work we’ve done, because this Mark provides a good starting place for health care reform.

Back in July, our former colleague Ted Kennedy wrote a magazine article titled “The Cause of My Life.” Ted made the point that in reforming our health care system, “incremental measures will no longer suffice.  We need to succeed where Teddy Roosevelt and other since have failed.  If we don’t reform the system, if we leave things as they are, health-care inflation will cost far more over the next decade than health-care reform.  We will pay far more for far less, with millions more Americans uninsured or underinsured.  This would threaten not just the health of Americans, but also the strength of the American economy.”

So let me ask you, my colleagues on the opposite side of the dais: Will you reflect on the words of our friend Ted Kennedy?   He devoted his career to health care reform.  And he, more than anyone, understood what is at stake.

And let me ask you:  Will you keep an open mind as the process moves forward?  We should not let ourselves become caught up in process arguments.  We should stay focused on the task at hand and not forget the price of failing to act.