A picture of Senator Jeff Flake
Jeff F.
Republican AZ

About Sen. Jeff
  • Nomination of Chai Rachel Feldblum to Be a Member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    by Senator Jeff Flake

    Posted on 2013-12-11

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    FLAKE. Madam President, I rise to address the nomination and some other issues.

    I want to say a few words about nominations. The Senate just confirmed President Obama's third nominee to the DC Circuit this year, and did so without the support of a single Senator from the minority party.

    I have only been in the Senate for a year, but I understand the importance of minority rights and the moderating effect that the minority has on the nominations and on legislation as a whole. Requiring the support of at least some of the minority Senators encourages both the nomination and appointment of more mainstream nominees.

    I think in the case of executive nominees, it ensures the heads of executive agencies are responsible to both the minority and majority parties. Minority input reinforces the separation of powers and safeguards the ability of Congress to conduct effective oversight.

    Let me give a couple examples of where I think this is important and something we have lost once the nuclear option was employed with regard to executive appointments.

    Earlier this year we had the appointment of a person to head the Environmental Protection Agency. It is an extremely important agency. It is important to Arizona--particularly since Arizona has a lot of Federal, State, and public lands--where actions of the Federal Government are perhaps amplified, and so that was an extremely important appointment. I ended up voting for Gina McCarthy. I think she is a good nominee.

    I understand that the President won the election, and he has the power to appoint his people and his team. Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, he ought to have that right. I have voted for nearly all of his nominees.

    In this case, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, while she was the nominee she knew she needed 60 votes. She knew she ought to see not just the Members of the majority party but those in the minority as well, and she made the rounds to my office as well as others.

    We had a good meeting. For example, I explained the importance of the dust regulations that are promulgated by the EPA where Arizona has a problem. We have occasional dust storms that are not recognized as such, and sometimes we have to fill out paperwork that is costly and time consuming just to convince the Federal Government that an occasional dust storm does blow through. It has nothing to do with the air quality protections or provisions that have been put in place but just because of the conditions on the ground. The Environmental Protection Agency's guidance and regulations have not caught up to that.

    She was understanding of that. She worked at the State level and agreed to talk to the stakeholders and interested parties in Arizona about this issue. She made good on that promise. We had that conference call a few weeks later, and it was the first time that many of these people in Arizona had been heard on the issue. They had a good meeting with the EPA, and I think it will lead to better regulations coming out of the EPA.

    That was a product of the process we had here which requires nominees from the President to not just go to the majority party, but to go to the minority party as well. I fear that has been lost, and I think that is a shame. I wish we could go back to the system we had and the system the Senate has operated on for a long time.

    When I gave my maiden speech on the floor a few months ago, I mentioned that the party holding the gavel is on a short leash. Bringing even the most noncontroversial resolutions to the Senate floor requires the agreement, or at least the acquiescence, of the minority party. I mentioned at that time that over the past decade both parties have chafed under these arrangements. Both parties have, at times, considered changing the rules that would in some measure make the Senate more like the House. I mentioned at that time, up to that time, that both parties had resisted that urge. They had been convinced by their own Members and others that it wasn't the way to go. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, and I think this body, this institution will be the poorer for it. I hope we can return to the traditions of the Senate, one where consensus is the hallmark of this body. I hope we can get there.

    Let me turn my attention to one of the issues that I think is a good example of what happens when one party moves legislation through this body too quickly, without consultations from the other party. It has to do with the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act passed with not a single Republican vote in the House or in the Senate. I think it is a good example of what can happen if legislation is rushed through without consultation or input from both parties.

    [[Page S8679]] Let me speak about some of the issues that have come up with the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare. The Wall Street Journal had an editorial the other day that talked about some of the issues that are going on with the enrollment data. It says: Most of Washington seems to have bought the White House claim that 36 federal exchanges are finally working. . . .

    They go on to explain what working really means: A charitable reading suggests that ObamaCare's net enrollment stands at about negative four million. That's the estimated four million to five and a half million people who had their individual plans liquidated as ObamaCare- noncompliant-- They are liquidated because they were noncompliant with ObamaCare-- offset by about 364,682 who have signed up for a plan on a state or federal exchange and the 803,077 who have been found to be eligible to receive Medicaid.

    So if we take that and net it out, it means that net enrollment-- people who now are covered by insurance of some type--has gone down by about 4 million. I think when we consider things are picking up in terms of people signing up, they are still being dropped far faster from private insurance plans than they are being picked up.

    It goes on, this editorial from the Wall Street Journal, saying: HHS is boasting of enrollment for November that was four times as high as October, yet 62 percent of the total was in the state exchanges, some of which are marginally less prone to crashing than the federal version. Then again, 41 states posted sign-ups only in the three or four figures, including eight states that run their own exchanges. Oregon managed to scrape up 44 people. Among the 137,204 federal sign-ups, no state is reaching the critical mass necessary for stable insurance prices.

    One problem they mention as well is that these figures are probably misleading. They say: A larger problem is that none of these represent true enrollments. HHS is reporting how many people ``selected'' a plan on the exchange, not how many people have actually enrolled in the plan with an insurance company by paying the first month's premium, which is how the private insurance industry defines enrollment. HHS has made up its own standard.

    I think when we find out that there is probably a pretty large dropoff between those who actually enroll and those who actually sign up, then they will realize these figures are misleading as well.

    Let me turn to another related issue. Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute had a piece the other day where he said: The good news, if you want to call it that, is that roughly 1.6 million Americans have been enrolled in ObamaCare so far.

    The not-so-good news is that 1.46 million of them actually signed up for Medicaid. If that trend continues, it could bankrupt both federal and state governments.

    He notes: Medicaid is already America's third-largest government program, trailing only Social Security and Medicare, as a proportion of the federal budget. Almost 8 cents out of every dollar that the federal government spends goes to Medicaid. That's more than $265 billion per year.

    As these Medicaid rolls expand, we know that is going to be a huge expense and probably a greater number of people signing up than anybody we thought would do. The Federal Government has committed to pick up 100 percent of the cost of new enrollees for a 3-year period, and then 90 percent thereafter. If the Federal Government makes good on that pledge, it may cost us a lot more than we figured, and it will increase the budget pressure on the Federal Government. If the Federal Government does what it often does and shifts those costs to the States, then the States are going to need to be prepared for a big increase as well.

    Mr. Tanner mentions: State governments pay another $160 billion for Medicaid today. For most states, Medicaid is the single-largest cost of government, crowding out education, transportation and everything else.

    New York spent more than $15 billion on Medicaid last year, roughly 30 percent of all state expenditures. The Kaiser Foundation projects that over the next 10 years, New York taxpayers will shell out some $433 billion for the program.

    There are going to be increasing pressures on State budgets as well.

    So these are some of the things we haven't considered yet.

    As we go into the new year, the next big shoe to drop will be in April or so when insurance companies actually see who is enrolling and who is not in the exchanges. I think everyone's fear is that there are too few healthy 28-year-olds signing up and more who are more high-cost enrollees and the numbers just will not add up and the insurance companies will be forced to jack up their rates, which will make insurance even less affordable than it is today and could increase the pressures we are talking about both on the Federal Government, on State governments, and, most importantly, on families across the country.

    I found of interest today a story by CNN. CNN looked at four stories after the ObamaCare so-called fix. They concluded in their headline ``many are still left out.'' Let me discuss briefly a couple of these and it gives some idea of what families are facing. This is exactly what I am hearing at home from neighbors and family and friends and exactly what I am experiencing enrolling in the Federal exchange as well--these kinds of cost increases. It reads: In the face of mounting criticism, President Barack Obama announced last month that he would allow insurance companies to renew so-called ``subpar'' plans for existing customers. But nearly a month later, not everyone is seeing the benefit of this policy change.

    They note that they spoke to four people in the days and weeks following the President's announcement to see how they have been affected. The results were varied, and for some of them the future remains uncertain.

    When we read through the stories it seems for everyone it is a pretty uncertain and more costly future.

    The first person they talk to is a woman by the name of Catherine. She said it is a 280-percent increase in premiums for her family.

    It was in September when Catherine received her letter. The much-maligned HealthCare.gov Web site had yet to be launched and approval ratings for the President's signature health care law were on the upswing.

    Catherine knew she would have to sign up for a new insurance plan but didn't expect her options to be so costly. She is a mom and a Navy veteran employed part-time as a nurse. Her husband is a small business owner. Her employer offers insurance plans but because she was not working full- time, getting a policy to cover her family of three was expensive. Unfortunately for her, a provision in the new health care law states that since her company offers plans that she could afford to cover herself but not her family, she does not qualify for a subsidy from the Federal Government, even though she is below the income threshold. She is, therefore, subject to an unusual loophole that requires her to pay the full premium of a new policy if she wants to cover her family or leave her job to get the subsidy.

    So we are seeing a huge increase in premiums. She experienced a 280- percent increase in premiums. That mirrors what I have been hearing from others as well.

    Greg and Linda live just down the street from me at home. I got an email from Greg, a friend of ours, the other day. He said that he and Linda, who are near 60 years old, had their insurance canceled because it was noncompliant with the new law. They went out and shopped on the exchange and found that the cheapest policy or the policy that most closely mirrored theirs--actually not as good as theirs but most closely mirrored theirs--was double their previous cost to more than $800 a month. That is what I am hearing again and again and again. When we read through these stories, we see it again and again.

    Here is another one, again from the CNN story: By most people's standards, Valentina Holroyd is in excellent health. She works out six to seven days a week and competes in triathlons with a group of equally high-energy friends. She participates in 10 or 12 races a year. She is a moderate Democrat who hoped that this new law would help people with preexisting conditions such as her husband get access to insurance and would allow people who could not afford insurance to get plans within their reach.

    It goes on to say that she had a plan, but then everything changed in October. She was notified by her insurer that her plan could not be renewed for 2014. The comparable plan offered was a 29-percent increase in premiums with higher copays as well as significantly higher prescription drug costs.

    The people I talk to, virtually all of them, are saying not only is there an increase in premiums but there are higher copays, higher max out-of-pocket costs. It is just not as affordable as it was before.

    [[Page S8680]] I think the fear all of us have is that as we go into the new year and we see the numbers of those who are actually signing up or not signing up, it simply means that rates are going to go up again and again. Once the employer mandate kicks in and a lot of businesses then unload their employees into the exchange, we are simply going to see the same problem. Only those who can afford it or those who are more expensive to insure will be signing up, by and large, and too few healthy individuals to lower the cost for everyone in a high pool, so costs will simply go up again.

    We can't have this go on for very much longer. This is called the Affordable Care Act, but I think most of us are finding it is anything but.

    Let me just go to one more of these stories while I have time. This is a Connecticut psychologist by the name of Martin Klein, and he is someone who has had plenty of experiences dealing with insurance companies. He has been practicing in the State for 11 years, runs two offices.

    Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield sent him a letter notifying him that his plan would no longer be offered for renewal when it expires in January. They said he needed to shop on the exchange. He goes on to explain that it is simply not as affordable as his old plan.

    As we go along in this coming year, we have to find out how we can actually make good on the promise that was given to have health care that is actually accessible and affordable for those who can't access it now. We all know the current system doesn't work very well. It needs to be changed. But change in this matter simply means that more people are uninsured and unsure about the future as well.

    I appreciate the opportunity to be here and speak about this tonight and I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Donnelly). The Senator from Wyoming.

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