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Christopher M.
Democrat CT

About Sen. Christopher
  • Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014—Motion to Proceed—Continued

    by Senator Christopher Murphy

    Posted on 2014-01-28

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    MURPHY. Madam President, it has been 1,406 days since the President signed into law the Affordable Care Act. Since that time, about 10 million Americans who have not had access to affordable insurance have gotten it and patients have been reempowered, along with their doctors, to take control of their own health care, taking power away from the insurance company which had run our medical lives for too long.

    The Presiding Officer and I lived through dozens of votes in the House of Representatives to repeal the bill, as the Senate saw as well, but absolutely no genuine effort to replace the health care bill. I was sitting in the Chair yesterday when one of our colleagues, Senator Hatch, came to the floor to talk about a new proposal--I would probably argue the first proposal from Republicans in 1,406 days to actually talk about what their vision--what Republicans' vision--for health care reform would be. This is just a framework, not a bill, that has been suggested by our colleagues, Senator Hatch and Senator Coburn and Senator Burr. So I wanted to come to the floor to talk about the implications of this framework for affordability and patient protections all across this country.

    First of all, I give some credit to our colleagues because it has been 1,406 days of complaints, of politics, of obfuscation, of obstruction. So for the first time we are at least beginning to see what the Republican vision is for the future of health care in this country. Although we don't have a bill--all we have at this point is a framework--it is a pretty scary future because the proposal from our Republican colleagues would dramatically increase the cost of health care for millions of Americans and would put the insurance companies back in charge of our health care.

    So for a few minutes I wish to talk in real terms about what this proposal will actually do for health care in this country. I only have a few minutes, so it is hard to go through the litany of backward steps we would take were we to adopt the proposal that has been laid out by a couple of our very brave Republican colleagues.

    But the first thing it would do is it would reinstate the fact that being a woman for decades in this country was considered to be a preexisting condition. The health care reform bill says very simply there can be no difference in the amount of money one pays for health care based on gender. The facts are plain: Women have historically paid 50 percent more in terms of health care costs than men have across this country; $1 billion more is the total amount of money women have paid more than men simply because insurance companies believe that being a woman is a preexisting condition. That is no longer the law of the land. Women pay the same rate as men. There is no difference based on gender. But that would be eliminated by this plan. Once again, being a woman could be considered a preexisting condition.

    Second, annual limits on the ability to recoup the cost of your health care from your insurance company would be reimposed. The health care bill says: Listen. It isn't fair that you buy an insurance policy, and when you get very sick, you are told at some point midway through the year your insurance is up. That is not real insurance. The idea of insurance is that we all pool our risks together, and then if one of us, through no fault of our own, gets sick, we actually get those insurance bills paid.

    [[Page S509]] The Affordable Care Act says there can't be any more of those annual limits, but the proposal from our Republican friends says that annual limits can come back from insurance companies. To someone such as Debra Gauvin from Connecticut, who had a $20,000 limit and who was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer and hit her limit about halfway through the year and then incurred about $18,000 of additional costs, causing her to basically forgo treatment, that was a painful reality of an insurance plan not delivering on insurance simply because she got so sick she had big costs. That would once again be the reality. The Republican plan would once again allow for annual limits.

    Our friends talk about the fact that they address the issue of preexisting conditions, but they don't. They truly don't. Because all their plan says is that if you switch plans and you have no gap, the new plan has to cover whatever illness you may have. But that is not how life works. There are 89 million Americans, in an average year, who have at least a 1-month gap in coverage. That 1-month gap in coverage under the Republican plan--the one shown to us in a basic framework-- would allow for preexisting condition discrimination to once again be the law.

    Betty Berger, one of my constituents, had insurance her entire life except for basically about a 1- or 2-month period of time where her husband was switching jobs. During that time, their son was diagnosed with cancer. The new insurance company at her husband's new employer wouldn't cover the preexisting condition, and the Bergers lost everything. They lost their home, they lost their savings, and their lives were financially ruined.

    The Affordable Care Act ends that nightmare for families. Fifty percent of bankruptcies in this country are caused by medical debt. The Republican plan does not fix the preexisting condition discrimination. All it says is, if you don't have any change, any gap in your coverage, then the new insurance company has to cover your preexisting condition. But for millions of families that is not how life works.

    Lastly, although the Republican plan does acknowledge the basic underlying wisdom of the Affordable Care Act is right, in that the best way to get coverage to people is to give them a tax credit with which to go buy private insurance--that is the foundation of the Affordable Care Act, and the Republican alternative that our colleagues introduced basically adopts that as their framework for expanding coverage as well--it is at a much lesser subsidy rate, with much greater tax consequences to Americans than the Affordable Care Act has in it.

    For instance, the Republican alternative says, if you hit 300 percent of the poverty level, that is it, no more subsidy. Well, 300 percent sounds like a lot. Three hundred is a big number. But the poverty level is pretty measly in this country. If someone is making 300 percent of the poverty level, they are making $34,000 a year. I don't know about the State of the Presiding Officer, but in Connecticut it is hard to put food on the table on a consistent basis at $34,000 a year. Then to have no help from the government to buy insurance essentially means we will have a huge class of people making $30,000 to $40,000 a year who under the Affordable Care Act are getting helped by insurance but whom under this alternative plan will get no help.

    But here is how it is even worse. The Republican alternative we have seen this framework on says that one of the ways we are going to pay for this is by taxing people for the health care they are getting. Right now, if someone gets health care coverage through their employer, which 150 million Americans do, they get to essentially exclude that money from taxation. They get those benefits in pretax dollars. The Republicans have said: Well, we are going to allow that to happen but only for about 65 percent of your benefit. So just under half of your health care is now going to be taxable. That is a massive tax increase on the people of this country.

    We can debate whether there is policy wisdom in limiting the tax exclusion of health care, but let us just admit that if you are going to fund your proposal based on eliminating the tax exclusion of employer-sponsored benefits to employees, then you are dramatically raising taxes on middle-class Americans all across this country.

    So while I give a lot of credit to the Senators who have put this framework out there, because it is the first time we have seen any alternative, it is a pretty miserable alternative for consumers all across this country who have finally for the first time, because of the Affordable Care Act, gotten access to affordable insurance and for countless more Americans who have been insured and who finally feel as though all of the tricks and the gimmicks they have seen from insurance companies, such as excluding people from coverage because of a preexisting condition or putting an annual limit on their coverage, that those days are over.

    So as we go into the debate about the effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act and as we talk about these alternatives that are now being promoted, it is important we do that with eyes wide open. Nobody on our side of the aisle who supported the health care bill is going to tell you it is perfect. No one on our side of the aisle is going to defend every step of the implementation, but it is changing the lives of millions of Americans. It is reducing the overall health care expenditure of this government, and it is putting Americans back in charge of their health care.

    Now is not the time to be discussing going back to the good old days when millions of Americans were left out of the rolls and the ranks of those who are insured and insurance companies dictated the day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month health care that is so critical to the lives of middle-class families.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming.

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