A picture of Representative Barbara Lee
Barbara L.
Democrat CA 13

About Rep. Barbara
  • Providing for Consideration of H.R. 3, Keystone XL Pipeline Act, and Providing for Consideration of H.R. 30, Save American Workers Act of 2015

    by Representative Barbara Lee

    Posted on 2015-01-08

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    Read More about Providing for Consideration of H.R. 3, Keystone XL Pipeline Act, and Providing for Consideration of H.R. 30, Save American Workers Act of 2015

    LEE. I thank the gentleman from California and the gentleman from Texas.

    Madam Speaker, I wonder: Does anyone know who Lisa Gray is? Or the many Lisa Grays across America? Lisa Gray is a woman who, as a small business owner, admitted that if it had not been for the Affordable Care Act, she would not have been able to get the chemo treatment for her leukemia.

    Just think of the workers who are now getting affordable care access. Now, with this legislation, they will be cut to 39 or 38 or 32 hours, so as not to have the employee-mandated and responsible way of treating their health insurance.

    This bill that is on the floor today will give us a $53 billion deficit. It will result in 1 million people losing their employee- sponsored coverage like Lisa Gray or families that I saw coming for enrollment in Texas.

    It will increase the number of people obtaining coverage through Medicaid, CHIP, and the health insurance marketplace between 500,000 and 1 million and increase the number of uninsured by upwards of 500,000.

    Do we realize what we have gained through the Affordable Care Act? According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average annual premium for employer-sponsored family health insurance rose just 3 percent. That is far different from 7.9 percent before the Affordable Care Act. Where is all this noise that our insurance premiums are going up? I will tell you what will be going up: it will cause an additional 6.5 million workers to find that their employers have cut their hours, and it will result in $19.6 billion in additional costs to the Federal health care program.

    Are we talking about deficit? I am talking about lives, Madam Speaker, and I am talking about the ability to save lives. This legislation is not interested in doing so.

    What about my State of Texas? We have not opted in to the expanded Medicaid. Twenty-three States--what will that do to individuals below 100 percent of the Federal poverty line if they had any ability to access the marketplace? They won't have the ability to access the marketplace because they will be in those who are cut down.

    Let me just say that we have the ability to realize and do better. Let me stop people from saying there is no Federal law that requires employers, Madam Speaker, to cover employees. You won't face penalties.

    You can do better. I believe this bill does not answer our concerns. I don't want Lisa Gray to lose her insurance.

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to H.R. 30, the so-called ``Save American Workers Act of 2014,'' which is the latest attempt by the House Republican majority to impede the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and deny Americans the security that comes from having access to affordable, high-quality health care.

    At the start of the new Congress the American people expect the ``People's House'' to take up matters of central concern to their lives: jobs, affordable education; and initiatives to close the income gap.

    I oppose this bill because its effect would be to deny employer provided health insurance to hard working employees who work more than 30 hours but less than 40 hours per week.

    The majority is bringing before the House of Representatives a bill that was brought before the last Congress, and the Obama Administration said that it would be vetoed.

    The majority has attempted over 50 times to end the Affordable Care Act with no hope of accomplishing their goal. Today's vote is no different from past attempts to take away Americans' right to affordable health care insurance.

    Further, should the Republican majority in the Senate decide to take up this bill--they do not have the 60 votes to bring H.R. 30 before the Senate for a final vote.

    If they could get H.R. 30 out of the Senate the President would veto the bill and neither the House nor the Senate has the two-thirds majority necessary to overcome a veto.

    This is a waste of limited legislative days for 2015, and a poor start to the 114th Congress.

    The Congressional Budget Office estimates that H.R. 30, the Save American Workers Act would: Increase the federal deficit by $53 billion over the next decade; Result in one million people losing sponsoring coverage; Increase the number of people obtaining coverage through Medicaid, CHIP, and the Health Insurance Marketplaces by between 500,000 and one million people; and Increase the number of uninsured by up to 500,000.

    Since 2013, over 10 million Americans now have health insurance because they took advantage of the Affordable Care Act.

    An independent analysis conducted by the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education found that increasing the threshold from 30 to 40 hours would result in nearly three times as many workers, about 6.5 million in total, being vulnerable to hour reductions than under current law.

    Premiums for employer-sponsored insurance grew in 2014 at the lowest rate on record back to 1999, tied with 2010. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation data, the average annual premium for employer- sponsored family health insurance coverage rose just 3.0 percent (1.2 percent adjusted for inflation) to $16,834 in 2out, far below the 7.9 percent (5.6 percent adjusted for inflation) rate seen from 2000-2010.

    Our nation has taken a momentous step in creating a mindset that health insurance is a personal responsibility with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. The law did not automatically enroll all citizens into the program because it was specifically designed to be an opt-in process.

    This nation because of the Affordable Care Act has 7.3 million people signed up for Marketplace plans, paid their premiums, and accessed quality, affordable coverage.

    An additionally, 8 million individuals enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP since the beginning [[Page H120]] 2015 Open Enrollment--that's an increase of nearly 14 percent compared to average monthly signups before this year's enrollment period began.

    Millions of young adults have gotten covered on their parent's plan, because the law says they can now do so until they turn 26.

    An article in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 10.3 million uninsured Americans have gotten since the start of Open Enrollment.

    In just one year (since the start of Open Enrollment), we've reduced the number of uninsured adults by 26 percent.

    Americans have more choices. During Open Enrollment 21314, consumers could choose from an average of 47 plans. Contrast that to before the Affordable Care Act when many consumers had few, if any, real choices.

    Today, we're able to announce that in 2015 there is a 25 percent increase in the total number of insurers selling health insurance plans in the Marketplace in 44 states.

    Seventy-six million Americans with private health insurance can finally get preventive services such as vaccines, cancer screenings, and yearly wellness visits without cost sharing, because the law says your insurance company must provide you with these services with no copay or other out-of-pocket expense.

    This includes nearly 30 million women and over 18 million children. Millions of families have real financial security because insurance companies can no longer deny them coverage because of a pre-existing condition or because they reach an annual or lifetime limit in coverage. Insurance companies must include things like prescription drugs and hospital stays in their coverage. And being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.

    H.R. 30 proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code by redefining a full time employee for purposes of providing health insurance to only those workers who work a 40-hour workweek.

    The bill would redefine ``full-time employee,'' for purposes of determining which employees an employer must provide health insurance coverage to only those hourly wageworkers who work 40 hours a week. The Affordable Care Act for the purpose of employers providing health care to workers defined a full time employee as any worker who works 30 hours a week or more.

    Few hourly workers in low-wage jobs work a 40-hour work week. These employees often rely on government assistance, which amounts to a hidden tax break to employers. Low wageworkers often rely upon public housing assistance, SNAP, WIC or Medicaid to make ends meet.

    In the 115th Congress wants to help Americans with access to affordable health care insurance they would address the issue of states that are not participating in the Medicaid expansion in states like the state of Texas where millions of uninsured low wage workers do not have access to health care insurance.

    Health insurance should not be used as a status symbol, but a basic right for people who live in the world's most prosperous nation. I know that many predicted that the Affordable Care Act would cause havoc on the nation's health care system, but it is not the ACA that is causing havoc--it is a small vocal minority within the majority party that is causing headaches and heartaches to doctors and their patients.

    I ask that my Colleagues vote against the rule for H.R. 30.

    [From The Ledger.com, Jan. 8, 2015] Stories Behind the Legislation: Woman--Obama's Health Coverage Saved Me (By Noam N. Levey) Alexandria, VA.--Like many working Americans, Lisa Gray thought she had good health insurance.

    That was until she was diagnosed with leukemia in mid-2013, and the self-employed businesswoman made a startling discovery: Her health plan didn't cover the chemotherapy she needed. ``I thought I was going to die,'' Gray, 62, said recently, recalling her desperate scramble to get lifesaving drugs.

    Through a mix of temporary measures, doctors and patient advocates managed to keep Gray stable for a few months.

    But it was a new health plan through the Affordable Care Act that Gray credits with saving her life. The plan, which started Jan. 1, 2014, gave her access to the recommended chemotherapy. Her cancer went into remission in the fall.

    It's been one year since the federal law began guaranteeing coverage to most Americans for the first time, even if they are sick.

    Some consumers pay more for insurance. Some pay less. Doctors, hospitals and businesses are laboring to keep up with new requirements. And across the country, ``Obamacare'' remains a polarizing political issue.

    For many Americans like Gray--who were stuck in plans that didn't cover vital services or who couldn't get insurance because of a pre-existing medical condition--the law has had a personal, even life-changing impact.

    ``A couple years earlier, I think I would have been done,'' Gray said.

    Even the law's supporters concede more must be done to control health care costs and ensure access to care.

    But the insurance guarantee--which includes billions of dollars in aid to low- and middle-income Americans--has extended coverage to about 10 million people who previously had no insurance, surveys indicate.

    That cut the nation's uninsured rate more than 20 percent last year, the largest drop in half a century.

    The law also changed coverage for millions more people who were in plans like Gray's that capped or excluded benefits.

    Gray thought little of these potential changes when President Barack Obama signed the health law in the spring of 2010. She'd had health insurance for decades.

    With a monthly $1,095 premium, the Kaiser Permanente plan that she had gotten through her husband's employer wasn't cheap.

    But it was her only option. As a breast cancer survivor, Gray probably wouldn't have been able to find a new plan.

    On the morning of May 20, 2013, Gray skidded off the road driving to her vacation condominium on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Aside from a few bruises, she was unhurt.

    But she had a bigger surprise at the emergency room. A routine blood test showed an unusually high white blood cell count.

    Gray had chronic myeloid leukemia, a relatively uncommon form of cancer that starts in the bone marrow and leads to the production of abnormal blood cells.

    The disease is now considered highly treatable. Gray's oncologist at Kaiser prescribed the standard oral chemotherapy, a medication known as Gleevec.

    Gray called her pharmacy to pick up the prescription.

    There was a pause on the line. The pharmacist asked Gray whether she knew the drug would cost $6,809 per month.

    ``I freaked out,'' she recalled. ``Why would they even make this drug if people can't afford it?'' Neither Gray nor her doctor realized her Kaiser plan covered only $1,500 worth of prescription drugs a year, a provision spelled out in small type in Appendix B of her 80- page plan brochure.

    Gray's family explored going to Canada, where pharmaceuticals are often less expensive. They finally found a clinical trial closer to home at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where researchers were testing an alternative to Gleevec called ponatinib.

    Gray's cancer quickly responded. The relief was only temporary, however. The next month, Gray had to stop the ponatinib. Without access to either drug, she was again scrambling.

    Bristol-Myers Squibb, which provides cancer patients with a temporary insurance card for a 30-day supply of yet another cancer drug, seemed to offer hope. But the card wasn't accepted at the Kaiser pharmacy where Gray had to get her prescriptions.

    American Cancer Society advocate Brandon Costantino persuaded a company sales representative to give Gray a month's supply anyway.

    Even the promise of a new insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act seemed elusive at first. Gray, like others, battled through the problems that hobbled HealthCare.gov after it opened.

    Finally, on Dec. 2, 2013, she selected a new Kaiser Permanente health plan for $780 per month. That was $315 less than her current plan. Most important, the plan covered Gleevec for a $30-a-month co-pay.

    Gray broke down in the pharmacy when she picked up her first prescription.

    She admits she's ``kind of a crier.'' Nine months later, a bone marrow biopsy showed no further sign of leukemia.

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