Prayerby Senator John Barrasso
Posted on 2013-09-24
BARRASSO. Mr. President, I come to the floor today, just 6 days
now before the Obama health care law exchanges go into effect, to point
out that even those who may support the law say with regard to the
exchanges, expect trouble. It was interesting that today the District
of Columbia--their health exchange announced it is not going to be able
to be ready to go October 1 for those seeking information regarding tax
credits, for those asking about Medicaid coverage. People will still be
able to submit applications online but apparently they need to then
have this information go to so-called experts with an eligibility
determination not to be made until sometime in November.
I applaud the District for pointing this out, that this is what they found because what they attributed the delay to was a ``high error rate'' discovered during testing. I am delighted that they were actually doing testing, discovered this high error rate and made that decision. But as people take a look at the upcoming exchanges as they open, I believe these exchanges open doors to fraud and to identity theft. The reason I say this is we are hearing this actually reported from supporters, again, of the health care law.
I will quote someone who has worked in support of the law in Chicago who says that, ``Fraudsters are poised to take advantage of widespread confusion over the Affordable Care Act--also known as ObamaCare--to take advantage of widespread confusion to steal Americans' credit cards, Social Security numbers, and other personal information.'' My goodness, how can that happen? It happens for a number of reasons. One is because of all of these so-called navigators, people who are hired by the government or people posing as those hired by the government to help folks sign up on the exchange. When they fill out the paperwork or fill out the computer forms, the information they are going to send in is to go to the data hub--tax information, income information, employment information, patient record information, Social Security number, welfare information, family size, demographic data-- and then where does all this information go? No. 1, to the Department of Justice. Also to the Social Security Administration. Also the Department of Homeland Security to check citizenship. Of course the Social Security Administration will validate birth, validate the person is not dead, validate the Social Security number. The Department of Justice will check on criminal history. The Health and Human Services Department, another recipient of the information, will check enrollment or eligibility for entitlement programs, collects and analyzes medical data. Then of course the IRS, who are the folks who are the enforcers of the Obama health care law-- the enforcers will, along with the Treasury Department, verify employment stats, individual income stats, determine premium subsidies, all with the potential for significant fraud and all because of a lack of providing the privacy safeguards that the law mandates this administration to provide. Yet the administration is not doing so. A number of us have been asking for months to see what is involved with these so-called navigators. What kind of education do they need? What kind of background checks are there? We still have not been able to get the information we are seeking.
We want to know: Do these people have to have a driver's license? Do they have to be of a certain age? Do they have to have a high school diploma? Do they have to have a criminal background check? Yet this administration will not give out that information about those individuals. Even the census takers have to have completed a certain level of education and have a criminal background check.
Yet this administration is not asking of those who were supposed to be the navigators handed very confidential information, of course, subject to fraud and identity theft when you give that sort of information--and I say to people all around the country it is time to beware next Tuesday when the exchange is open.
I just quoted a couple of things that supporters of the health care law have said, such as expect trouble and worry about con artists. Here are some other things that some of the supporters have said--people who supported the adoption of this law in the first place. They said: It will destroy the foundation of the 40-hour workweek that is the backbone of the American middle class. These, of course, are union folks who are saying: Hey, this is going to end up forcing millions out of their multi-employer plans. It will create unstoppable incentives for employers to reduce weekly hours for workers. We see that all across the country.
Just last week the Cleveland Clinic--a wonderful health care institution and one of the major employers in the State of Ohio-- announced that because of the health care law and because of the cuts in reimbursement, the Cleveland Clinic is going to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from their budget and actually reduce their workforce because of the President's health care law and the things they are learning about the law as time goes on.
It is interesting to see a union leader say: In its rush to achieve its passage, many of the act's provisions were not fully conceived. People on this side of the aisle were telling Members of this body that very thing a number of years ago before the law was passed in this body on a sole party-line basis.
Yesterday, President Obama, once again, tried to bring in help, and he provided essentially the warmup act for an infomercial with President Bill Clinton, the so-called secretary of explaining stuff, because the President has failed to explain benefits of the health care law to the point that it would actually convince the American people it was good for them. Currently, the President is under water in the polls regarding his leadership on health care, and this health care law continues to be very unpopular with the American people.
More people think their costs will go up and their benefits will go down than the other way around. So they are looking at their own quality of care and what it means to them: paying more, getting less, something that the American people don't want.
So in an effort to try to provide some solace to the American people, this is what the President said yesterday in New York: Make your own decision about whether it is good for you. What we are confident about is when people look and see they can get high-quality affordable health care for less than their cell phone bill, they are going to sign up.
I would say if you use that criteria, you are going to have very few people signing up for your health care law.
According to the 2012 report issued by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry, the average monthly cell phone bill was about $47. So make your own decision--less than your cell phone bill. So what the President is saying is that for less than $47 a month, people will be able to receive insurance.
[[Page S6873]] The interesting thing is that, of course, the President says that is with the subsidies. But for many people the subsidies are not in any way going to reduce the cost of their insurance at all, and it may not go up as high as many people had feared, but it is still going to be higher than they are paying now because of the sticker shock that is coming.
This is today's Wall Street Journal. This is coming out of the administration: Prices Set For New Health-Care Exchanges.
Across the country, the average premium for a 27-year-old nonsmoker, regardless of gender, will start at $163 a month for the lowest-cost ``bronze'' plan.
That is just about four times the average of a monthly cell phone bill. So could the President of the United States be mistaken? Let's look around the country. They say: Likewise, the least-expensive bronze policy would rise to $195 a month in Philadelphia for that same 27-year-old, from $73 today.
So it would go from $73 up to $195.
Let's look at my home State of Wyoming. I am still reading from the front page of today's Wall Street Journal.
In Cheyenne, Wyo., the lowest-cost option would be $271 a month, up from $82 today.
This just goes to prove that when Washington comes up with something, it does not one-size-fits-all across this country, and in rural States around the country there are huge problems related to the very fact that one size doesn't fit all.
In spite of the President's comparison to a cell phone bill, what we are seeing is that people all across the country are going to be paying excessive amounts of money for insurance in spite of the President's promises that if you like what you have, you can keep it. We know that is not the case for many people, as the unions have spoken of, and we know that what the President promised of lowering insurance premiums by $2,500 per family by the end of his first term never materialized and the costs continue to go up.
So this health care law has turned out to be terrible for patients, the providers, the nurses, and doctors who take care of them, and it is going to be terrible for taxpayers.
There was an interesting story on the front page of the New York Times on Monday: ``Lower Premiums to Come at Cost of Fewer Choices.'' In new plans, insurers often leave out many providers. I think that is the key: leave out many providers. Because what we are seeing is that in many locations around the country, hospitals have been excluded, doctors have been excluded, and there is going to be significant explaining to be done when people realize that they are not going to be able to continue to go to the pediatrician that their children have been going to since birth. They are not going to be able to go to the hospital in their community. They are not going to be able to keep the health care plan they have.
So it is interesting to see in a Blue Cross/Blue Shield in New Hampshire, one of the Nation's largest insurers has put a plan together that is consistent with the health care law, and it has created a furor. The reason it has created this furor is that it excludes 10 of the State's 26 hospitals from the health plans it is going to sell through the insurance exchange.
The insurance exchange, regardless of what the President promises, is going to be something which potentially causes fraud, abuse, and loss of the care that you have, the doctor that you have, and the hospital that you have.
The article points specifically to the State of California. In California, it says the statewide Blue Shield developed a network specifically for consumer shopping in the insurance exchange.
The executive vice president of Blue Shield of California said the network for its exchange plans had 30,000 doctors or 53 percent of the doctors in the State. So they only include about half the doctors, not all the doctors, and they said the new network you get through the exchange in California--remember this is a State-run exchange that the President has touted as a successful exchange--``did not include the five medical centers of the University of California or the Cedars- Sinai Medical Center near Beverly Hills'' that are all well known for their excellent reputation. It is a place that patients want to go for care.
So go to the exchange in California, sign up for something the President has promised you, and then if you need to use that insurance card, you will learn that you are not welcomed and your card is not accepted at the five medical centers at the University of California or the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center near Beverly Hills.
That is what we have under this health care law, and that is why we need to repeal it and replace it with patient-centered care so patients can get the care they need from a doctor they choose at a lower cost.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Heinrich). The Senator from California.
Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, I listened to colleagues predicting doom and gloom, and it brings back what I have read about what happened when Medicare was brought to this country by the Democrats and what happened when Social Security was brought to this body and to the House after the Great Depression.
I am going to go into that in a little bit, but somebody said this earlier and it reminded me that one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.
The Republicans in the House have voted 42 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act or to defund it. Health care reform has taken years and years to do, and we finally got it done. Millions of Americans are on the cusp of getting health insurance for the first time.
Republicans are desperately trying to block this from happening. Senator Reid couldn't be more clear: We are not going to delay health care for the people of this great Nation. We are not going to go back to the days when people with a preexisting condition were left to die without health care. We are not going back there. Yet it continues.
The Republicans are so adamant about it that a very large group of them are threatening to shut down the government of this great country. Again, it is not like they didn't do this before. The Republicans did this before. It was a disaster for the people. People got hurt. They didn't get paid. Business was disrupted, Social Security and Medicare were disrupted, veterans' benefits were disrupted, and parks were shut down. People were hurt as a result of that, and it cost a fortune for the taxpayers. But somehow Republicans feel they can play games, and I think it is a shame.
My colleague Senator Cruz spoke for a very long time and said he would speak until he dropped. He said that over and over: I will speak until I drop. If he were to drop and suffered some kind of health episode, which he apparently was willing to risk, he would have had health care because he is insured. If he had to be lifted off the floor of the Senate and driven to a nearby hospital, Senator Cruz would have had great health care. Why does he want to stop that for millions and millions of hard-working Americans? Only he can answer that.
I could only say that as I listened to some of his interviews, it sounds like what he is feeling in his heart is if this goes into effect, the people might like it and then woe is us. Because there is an ideological split here in the Senate where we have Senators and House Members who don't think there is any role for the Federal Government to play in making people's lives better. Some say military spending, fine; highway spending, fine. But when it comes to lifting people up and giving them a quality of life and helping to do that, oh, no.
So Senator Ted Cruz is fortunate. If he talked until he dropped on the floor, he would have had the best health care, he would have been on his feet and super fine. There are a lot of people out there who are dropping because they put off going to the doctor because they have a condition and they have no insurance, and when they drop they have to go to an emergency room where they can be patched up--and by the way, taxpayers pay for that.
So here is the thing. We have the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans call ObamaCare, so that is fine--ObamaCare, Affordable Care Act, whatever we want to call it. It is based on a Republican-suggested model of [[Page S6874]] health care where we use private insurance, we go to an exchange, and there is a lot of competition. I am excited about it, frankly, because in my home State of California, we are on board: coveredca.com. People type in coveredca.com, and they find out how they can get health care. Some people will apply and get a Medicaid card, the working poor. The middle class will be able to move forward and go to the exchanges, and many will get a subsidy to help them if they are in the middle class.
Here is the thing that really shocks me. Republicans act as if this health care bill, this Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare, just came down off the ceiling and dropped on the floor and became law. It took a long time. Senator Baucus worked and worked and worked. We took many Republican amendments. We passed the bill. It became the law of the land 3 years ago.
They took it to the Supreme Court and said it was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court said it was constitutional. And now that it is about to go into play, Republicans are willing to shut the government down to stop it.
It was the centerpiece of the 2012 election. We all know that.
Mitt Romney said: If I am President, I am getting rid of that law.
The people of the country said: OK. What are you going to put in its place? Well, let's see. We will allow insurance to go across State lines.
Well, what does that do for me if I have a preexisting condition? They wanted to replace it with nothing. The American people are smart. It doesn't mean this law is perfect and we can't make it better, but let me tell my colleagues, many of us served under many Presidents. I am looking at my colleague from Maryland who served a long time in the House. I served with five Presidents, a couple of whom I didn't agree with, and I did everything I could to fight against the legislation they liked that I felt was bad. But once it passed, I didn't try to shut down the government. I tried to work with everybody, and I am not an exception. That is what we used to do around here, all of us. Suddenly, it is: My way or the highway. I am taking my Teddy bear, my blankie, and I am going home because I don't like the health reform act. It doesn't suit me.
Some of them are so angry about it, they are trying to take away the employer contribution from their own staff. What an outrage--hard- working people who love their country, who work here.
Now, let me tell my colleagues, Earth to the Republicans: A, you lost the election not only for President but in the Senate, where colleagues who supported the Affordable Care Act got elected; B, President Obama was reelected, Mitt Romney lost. Health care reform was a major issue on the campaign trail. So wake up, smell the roses, put a smile on your face, and know you tried, but don't shut down the government. Enough already.
I wish to spend some time showing my colleagues how the Affordable Care Act is already working, so I have some charts to go over quickly.
In my State over 1 million Californians are already newly insured. This includes in my State 400,000 young adults who are now on their parents' policies. If the Republicans have their way and they defund or repeal ObamaCare or the Affordable Care Act, what is going to happen to those young adults? They will be kicked off of their parents' policies. Is this why Senator Cruz stood on the floor for hours and hours until he would drop--to hurt young adults, 3 million of them nationwide? Seventy-one million Americans are getting free preventive care, such as checkups and birth control and immunizations. I don't know how many of us heard Senator King from Maine today talk about his own experience when he worked here as a young man and had insurance, so he got a preventive care checkup, which came with his insurance. They found a melanoma. Had he not gone to the doctor and had they not seen that mole that turned cancerous, he said he would not be here anymore. Health insurance saved his life.
So I wish to rhetorically ask Senator Cruz and the Republicans supporting him in this body and in the House, why would you take away free preventive care and immunizations from 71 million Americans and consign them to a status where they are absolutely sitting there without any protection because they have no health insurance? Let's see what else we have already achieved that the Republicans want to repeal. They want to repeal 17 million kids with preexisting conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, who can now no longer be denied coverage. If my colleagues ever saw those pictures of a child gasping for air, my colleagues know those kids need coverage, they need help, and they need to be able to get that help and get the medication when they need it.
Insurers can't cancel health insurance because someone gets sick. How many stories did we hear as Congresspeople and as Senators where people went to get insurance and they said: Sorry, 25 years ago you had a suspicious mole, and therefore we are not going to insure you--or you have high blood pressure or 10 years ago you had cancer. No more. And how many times have you heard the stories where people were kicked out of their insurance because they hit a lifetime cap? That is no more. Republicans want to repeal all these benefits, and Senator Cruz was willing to talk until he dropped so these benefits could be taken away from our constituents.
I heard my friend from Wyoming, Senator Barrasso, say that health costs are rising and they are rising like never before. I guess he missed it when President Clinton told the country that health care costs are growing at the slowest rate in over 50 years--50 years. And that is because more people are getting covered and we don't have to treat people at the end game or in an emergency room because we are already seeing people get more health coverage. Insurance companies now have to justify a premium hike. Before, they could double premiums, but now they have to justify it and make sure 80 percent of the premiums they get are spent on the policyholders.
So in 2014--and we are around the corner from that--unless Senator Cruz and his Republican friends have their way, there will be no more extra charges for preexisting conditions. Right now it is just children who have that benefit, but in 2014 everybody gets it.
In 2014, no longer can insurance companies charge women more than men for their coverage. This is a huge issue. There was gender discrimination. Being a woman was considered a preexisting condition. A woman who was abused by her spouse or by her boyfriend, and she walked in and the insurance company found out, that was considered a preexisting condition because she might get beat up again. So she was told: Take a hike. That can't happen anymore.
They cannot impose dollar limits on the amount of health care spent on you in a single year. Right now, if you have a serious illness, they can say: Sorry, you reached your annual cap.
So where are we now? ObamaCare, or the Affordable Care Act, is already in effect. Republicans want to stop it because in 2014, when those exchanges open, they know people are going to like what they see. I am telling my colleagues, when I go home and I go to community health care centers, people are so excited. And not enough of them know about it, but when they find out how easy it is--if they qualify for Medicaid, they just get their card and they are covered, and they no longer have to sneak into the emergency room when a problem gets so drastic. And all the others will have options. They will be able to choose from a platinum plan, a silver plan, or a bronze plan. We are very excited about this law.
Senator Cruz says he will stand on his feet until he drops to stop my people and your people from getting health insurance? He has met his match in us because we can stand until we drop. But we don't have to do that because we have the votes, and the reason we have the votes is this is what the last election was about.
In closing my presentation, I wish to share with my colleagues a very brief history of what happened when Social Security was proposed. It is so interesting.
In 1935, after the Great Depression and our great-grandparents were lying in the street and had nothing and people were jumping out of windows because they had nothing--they had lost their homes, they had lost their jobs, they had lost their savings, and there [[Page S6875]] was no safety net. This is what President Franklin D. Roosevelt said when he signed the act in 1935: We can never insure one-hundred percent of the population against one-hundred percent of the hazards and the vicissitudes of life. But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age. This law represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built, but it is by no means complete.
Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke about the safety net in 1935. Just think about that.
Let's see what happened in the debate. Let's look at what happened in the debate.
Representative William Ditter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, took to the floor and said: . . . security for the individual, whether worker or aged, will be a mockery and a sham if in the attainment thereof we . . . allot to our people the role of puppets of a socialistic state . . .
Where have we heard that before? He called Social Security part of a socialistic state.
We cannot provide a sense of security by programs for the destruction of wealth. . . . We cannot assure to the people a sense of security by measures threatening their investments of life savings.
Could this guy have been more wrong? He calls Social Security socialism and said it was going to destroy wealth when, in fact, it preserved our people in their old age.
Now, here is another--Representative Jenkins of Ohio, a Republican. He talks about Social Security this way: This is compulsion of the rankest kind. Do not be misled by the title. The title says ``Old-Age Benefits''. Shame on you for putting such a misleading and unfair title on such a nefarious bill. Old-age benefits? Think of it! Oh, what a travesty!. . . . Mr. Chairman, what is the hurry? Nobody is going to get a dime out of this until 1942. . . . what is the hurry about crowding an unconstitutional proposition like this through the House today? Honestly--honestly--this is what we hear them say about affordable health care: Socialism, unconstitutional. It is a sham. We have plenty of time. We should delay it.
History is repeating itself right in front of our eyes.
Now it did not stop then.
In 2005, Republicans continued to attack Social Security. President George W. Bush and Congressman Paul Ryan wanted to do away with Social Security as we know it. We all remember that. They proposed abolishing Social Security and replacing it with private accounts in the stock market. We all know how safe that is. I am a former stockbroker. You do not buy stocks when you are ready to retire. That is their plan. Had this become law, seniors retiring in 2008 would have lost up to $26,000. But we stopped them and we did not allow it to happen.
Lastly, let's look at Social Security's success.
Before Social Security became the law in 1935, half of America's seniors lived in poverty in the midst of the Great Depression--half. Today, 57 million Americans receive Social Security, and it lifts 14 million elderly Americans out of poverty. It is the most successful and the most popular antipoverty program.
The Republicans said it was unconstitutional. They said it was socialism. They said it was a sham, a disaster. They are back here saying the same thing, just as we are on the cusp of delivering a benefit to so many--probably 50 million Americans.
This is my last discussion about Medicare.
When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare Act, he said: No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years. No longer will young families see their own incomes, and their own hopes, eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents, and to their uncles, and their aunts.
This was President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. Some of us actually were around in the 1960s. We remember it. And this is what the Republicans said about Medicare. Listen carefully. This is a history moment here. We are looking at what the Republicans said every time we were about to get a new benefit for the people of this Nation.
Sixty percent of Republicans in the Senate and 50 percent of House Republicans voted against Medicare. Representative Durward Hall of Missouri, a Republican, said: . . . we cannot stand idly by now, as the Nation is urged to embark on an ill-conceived adventure in government medicine, the end of which no one can see, and from which the patient is certain to be the ultimate sufferer.
This is what the Republicans said. And Senator Milward Simpson of Wyoming, a Republican, said: I am disturbed about the effect this legislation would have upon our economy and upon our private insurance system. . . .
Well, of course, what we found out is this turns out to be one of the most successful programs.
Medicare is a success. Before Medicare became law, a majority of seniors had no health insurance. Today, nearly all seniors are receiving guaranteed health care benefits. Mr. President, 8 out of 10 seniors age 65 and older feel the program is working. With few exceptions throughout history, Medicare has been more successful than private insurers at holding down costs. And we still have to fight for Medicare. We still have to fight.
In 1995, Dick Armey, the Republican House majority leader, said, Medicare is ``a program I would have no part of in a free world.'' A bit of an overstatement--Dick Armey.
That same year, after leading an effort to raise premiums and costs for seniors, Newt Gingrich predicted that Medicare was ``going to wither on the vine.'' Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole bragged in 1996, ``I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare. . . . because we knew it wouldn't work in 1965.'' And Paul Ryan's budget ends Medicare as we know it today.
So all this brings us to the moment we are in. Now Republicans are trying to defund the new health reform law. Speaker John Boehner said: Passage of health reform is ``Armageddon'' because the law will ``ruin our country.'' They said it about Social Security, they said it about Medicare, and now they are saying it about the Affordable Care Act.
The Republican Party Platform, in 2012, said: [ObamaCare] was the high-water mark of an outdated liberalism, the latest attempt to impose upon Americans a euro-style bureaucracy to manage all aspects of their lives.
So I felt it was important to put into the Record the historical context of the battle we face today. I try to tell my kids and my grandkids, when we fight these battles, we sometimes forget the context, that it is not that much different than what went before us. We look different certainly. The women here were not around here then. But the fact of the matter is, they are the same battles. It is about what is the role of the national government of the greatest country in the world. I certainly, for one, believe making life better for our people and doing it in a smart way, in a fiscally responsible way, is the way to go.
We will have to make our changes to the Affordable Care Act if we see we can make it better. And we invite our Republican friends to work with us. I was one who did not vote for the drug benefit because I did not like that big, fat doughnut hole that came in there, which put people on the spot. They had to stop taking their medicine. They could not recover money. But we worked with our friends, and we ended that. And, by the way, we did it in this bill, the Affordable Care Act.
So, yes. Working together, yes. But standing up until we drop in order to stop important benefits from going to America's families? That is wrong.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Maryland.