A picture of Senator John Barrasso
John B.
Republican WY

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  • Continuing Appropriations

    by Senator John Barrasso

    Posted on 2013-10-01

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    BARRASSO. Mr. President, as my colleague from Missouri said, as we are here on the floor today, much of the Federal Government has been shut down. It is shut down because of the Democrats' unwillingness to compromise on keeping the government open and delivering fairness to all Americans.

    While employers got a pass from the President on his health care law, the American people still face a mandate that they start signing up for Washington-approved health insurance and the exchange is open today. The House of Representatives took the reasonable and responsible step of keeping the government open while eliminating the health care law's unfairness.

    It is unfair that the mandate for health care law will not be delayed for individuals for a year but does delay the mandate for businesses. It is also [[Page S7071]] unfair to refuse to eliminate special exemptions under the health care law for Members of Congress. That wasn't in the health care law at all. Yet the President has granted special exemptions that I believe show the unfairness of the approach by the Democrats.

    President Obama saw that other parts of the health care law won't work and weren't ready. He has currently signed seven different bills which will repeal and defund other parts of his law. In the interest of fairness, he should deal with these parts that are seen all across the country as very unfair.

    The President has allowed exemptions and changed the laws for specific groups. He has delayed the employer mandate for a year. The question is: Why does he oppose delaying the individual mandate for a year as well? Why do the bosses get an exemption but not the workers? That is what someone asked me at a health fair in Lovell, WY, over this past weekend.

    The American people already know the health care law is unaffordable, unworkable, unpopular, and now families are also saying the health care law is unfair. The House has asked us to treat all Americans fairly, but the President and the majority leader refuse to do that. If you look at their rhetoric over the past week or so, Washington Democrats seemed eager for a government shutdown. Well, they got their wish. Meanwhile, the administration is still promising people great benefits from the new government-run health insurance exchanges. Today hard- working Americans get to see which promises are kept and which have been broken. I think what people are going to learn today can be summed up in two words: Buyer beware.

    Here is how the Wall Street Journal put it yesterday. This is their front-page article: ``Late Snags on Eve of Health Rollout.'' The article says the Obama administration officials are scrambling to get the health law's insurance marketplaces ready to open on Tuesday but keep hitting technical problems, while government-funded field workers across the country say they are not fully prepared to help Americans enroll in the program.

    The reports in the news today show a system failure across the country as the exchange goes live. Remember what the President said in his address to the Nation Saturday. He said they are opening on Tuesday no matter what--no matter what, they are opening today.

    Well, I think the people across the country are going to have more than just technical problems. First of all, people are going to see significantly higher costs. Last week, the President promised to give Americans, and I quote, ``high-quality affordable health care for less than their cell phone bill.'' Remember, the average monthly cell phone bill is $71. In Cheyenne, WY, the least expensive plan a 27-year-old man can buy will be $271. The President said less than $71. Why is it $271 a month in Cheyenne, WY? And that is for a healthy 27-year-old. So before the health care law, before the exchanges, they could buy a plan such as that for $82; now, $271--a lot more than a cell phone bill.

    The White House isn't even disputing anymore that prices will be higher for many people. Now the White House is arguing that consumers will spend more, but they will get, as they say, better insurance.

    The administration is also saying that prices are going up less than they had previously estimated. They previously estimated they were going to go up a lot. Now they are estimating they are not going to go up quite as much as a lot, but they are still going to go up. A smaller increase isn't what the President promised. He said families could pay $2,500 less a year. That is what the President promised. It is not what is happening.

    Prices in the exchanges are up all across the country. In California, the cheapest plan at the silver level will cost a 40-year-old in Los Angeles $242 a month. That same person, because of something in the law called community ratings, buying the same plan in Sacramento, CA, would pay $330 a month. I see the astonishing looks on faces of folks in this Chamber. They can't believe it. They say, How can it be true? Perhaps they should have read the law, read the bill before they voted to pass it. The price is 38 percent more in Sacramento than in L.A. for the same identical policy, for the same 40-year-old person.

    In addition to the higher cost of insurance premiums, there are also higher out-of-pocket costs, higher copayments, higher deductibles--all things that are going to make people look at this and say, Cheaper than my cell phone bill? Not a chance. All of that means more money out of the wallets of hard-working Americans and more sticker shock.

    The second thing people are learning today as they sign up in the exchanges is that many of them will actually lose their doctor. I practiced medicine for 25 years. I know how important it is for patients to have a long-term relationship with their caregivers. The exchanges--the mandates coming out of this President's health care law--break that bond. That is because insurance companies needed to find ways to keep rates from going even higher. So what they have done is limited the doctors and limited the hospitals that patients can visit.

    In New Hampshire, Anthem BlueCross BlueShield is excluding 10 of the 28 hospitals in the State from the exchange. A young mother may not be able to keep seeing the pediatrician whom she knows and trusts with her children's care. That wasn't supposed to happen. The President promised that if you liked your doctor, you could keep your doctor. Today, many Americans are finding out that is just not the case.

    On Sunday, a few days ago, Howard Dean, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, admitted that one of the unintended consequences of the law is that small businesses are going to dump their employees into the exchange. The people who work at those small businesses don't get to keep the insurance they had, and they may not get to keep the doctor they had either.

    A third thing people are going to start to see today as the exchanges open for business is that there is a definite risk of fraud and identity theft. How can that be? The administration has hired so-called navigators--people to help enroll consumers in the exchanges. It turns out that these workers aren't well trained or even subject to consistent background checks. Even the Obama administration has been warning that con artists will take advantage of confusion over the law to steal people's identities. As I said earlier, buyer beware. Security may also be inadequate in the giant government ``data hub.'' These are the huge databases of detailed personal information about everyone in the exchanges. The information will be available to people in many different government agencies, in the whole chart of all the different places that this data is going to be sent all throughout government. The administration promises that the data hub will work, but they will not talk about what they have done to ensure that it is secure.

    Finally, we know that today there are going to be a lot of customer service system failures. President Obama said that buying insurance through the exchanges would be like shopping at Amazon.com. It is shaping up to be much less consistent than that. Instead of simply clicking a few buttons online, many people are spending hours following up with phone calls, e-mails, and faxes. Faxes? As recently as two weeks ago, government software couldn't reliably tell people the correct price for their insurance. Late last week, the administration delayed enrollment of some of its small business exchanges. Washington, DC, said last week that parts of its exchanges also weren't ready. In the State of Oregon, State officials say the software problems will force them to delay their Web site. People there will have to find other ways to get help for signing up.

    That is not how Amazon.com works. That is not what the President promised.

    It didn't have to be this way. The American people knew what they wanted from health care reform. They wanted lower costs and more accessible, quality care. President Obama could have drafted a law that actually addressed Americans' concerns. Instead, he forced through a law making health care more complicated, more uncertain, and more expensive.

    [[Page S7072]] Now is the time for the American people to hold the President to his promises. Coverage in the exchanges, as he said, should cost less than your cell phone bill, be as easy and secure as Amazon, and let people keep their doctors. How well those promises hold up will be the real legacy of the Obama health care law.

    Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Schatz). The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    Mr. BARRASSO. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. BARRASSO. I ask unanimous consent that the time be equally divided between both parties.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. BARRASSO. Thank you, Mr. President. I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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