September 25, 2013
Sean Neary/Meaghan Smith 202-224-4515
Baucus Stands In Support of the Affordable Care Act
Floor Statement as Prepared for Delivery
Mr. President, I rise today, as I often do, with a quote. It comes from a conservative leader speaking out about a new health care law.
He said, “We're against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program.”
He called the heath care law “socialism.”
He went on, saying, “Our natural, unalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government, and freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment.”
Those are frightening words. But Mr. President, those words were not spoken in 2010 or 2011. They were not spoken in 2012 or 2013. Ronald Reagan said those words in 1964. He was speaking out against Medicare, which became law the following year.
Fast forward 20 years, and things were quite different. President Reagan said in 1984, “Millions of Americans depend on the Medicare program to help meet their health care costs.”
He continued, “We must ensure the long term solvency of the Medicare program, and I'm confident that we can find the right solutions in a bipartisan manner.”
What happened in that 20 year span to change President Reagan’s mind? The hysterics ended. People gave the new program room to breathe, and it worked. Medicare gave America’s seniors access to health care they never had before.
The same pattern emerges when you look further back into history. Consider Social Security.
In 1935, one Senator said that Social Security would, “go a long way toward destroying American initiative and courage.”
Another Member of Congress said, quote, “The lash of the dictator will be felt…”
These are criticisms of landmark legislation, monumental laws that are now vital to the very health and welfare of our nation. While criticized in their conception, Social Security and Medicare are now considered the most successful large-scale Federal programs in our nation’s history.
I am confident history will treat the Affordable Care Act in similar fashion. I am confident the complaints of those who have gone so far as to call the ACA “a crime against democracy,” or a “centralized, health dictatorship,” will soon be drowned out by the voices of the American people whose lives are better off because of the ACA.
Already, the ACA has done more than any law in the past half-century to expand health coverage. In the past three years, the ACA has provided 71 million Americans free preventive services. More than six million seniors have received discounts on vital prescription drugs. More than three million young people have peace of mind in knowing they are allowed to stay on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26. And I am especially proud of the fact that now no child can ever be denied health coverage because of a pre-existing health condition.
All that, and the full benefits of law have not yet taken effect.
The ACA is not a perfect law, but neither were Social Security or Medicare when they passed Congress. Adjustments may need to be made to improve the ACA and make it stronger.
It would be easier to make improvements if everyone on Capitol Hill participated, but we’re not getting that chance from half of Congress.
Instead, Republicans in the House are making every effort to destroy the ACA, fighting to take away its many benefits for America’s families and businesses.
Last week, the House passed a Continuing Resolution to fund the government for the remainder of the year. That bill — the bill before us today — includes amendments to eliminate all funding to implement the ACA.
I want to be very clear here — we are not going to let that happen. We are not going to go back to the status quo.
We are not going back to a broken system where more than 50 million Americans lack health insurance.
We are not going back to a system that allows the costs of medical care to overwhelm a family and force them into bankruptcy.
We are not going back to a system that allows the simple lack of insurance to contribute to the death of thousands of Americans each year.
We are not going to return to the status quo.
Rather, we are full steam ahead on implementing the ACA.
In just six days, the health exchanges, or marketplaces, will open for business, and the Affordable Care Act really kicks in.
Now, what does that mean? For the majority of Americans – nothing, really. Despite all the scare tactics, despite all the rhetoric, nothing will change for the millions of Americans who already get health insurance from their employers, Medicare, Medicaid or the VA.
But for those almost 50 million Americans who don’t have health insurance, they will now have access to affordable care and peace of mind. Thanks to federal tax credits and subsidies, for the first time, millions of working class families will pay less than $100 a month for health insurance.
And for the most vulnerable among us, they will receive care through an expanded Medicaid program.
No one can be denied health insurance anymore – that is, unless some in the House have their way. Their intention, which is clearly spelled out in the Continuing Resolution before us, is to undermine and defund America’s health care law.
Mr. President, for years, we have been trying to solve the problem of rising healthcare costs.
For years, we have been trying to help working families gain access to comprehensive coverage that doesn’t make them go bankrupt or deplete their household budgets. Past Presidents, Congresses and other policymakers have tried to fix this problem time and time again. And here we sit today, with a solution — the Affordable Care Act.
For the first time, every American will be guaranteed health coverage. It will no longer be legal for a health insurer to deny someone coverage for a preexisting condition, like breast cancer or pregnancy. Yes, before the ACA, being pregnant was a “pre-existing condition”. But the House CR wants to stop this and continue limiting consumer protections and access to affordable care.
The ACA also provides free preventive services like wellness visits and mammograms. Since the law passed, 71 million Americans have received preventive benefits like these - for free. But the House CR wants to take this away.
Under the ACA, insurers can no longer impose lifetime or annual limits on care. This means that more than 105 million Americans no longer have a cap on their coverage. But the House CR wants to take this away.
Approximately 3.1 million young adults have gained coverage through an ACA provision that allows them to stay on their parent’s health insurance plan. But the House CR wants to take this away as well.
I am concerned about the effects of the House CR — not only on the health reform law —but also on seniors in Medicare.
Leader Reid and I wrote a letter last week to Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. We asked her what impact the House CR would have on the operation of Medicare.
Specifically, we asked how the CR would affect beneficiaries’ access to care. Last Friday, we received her response, and it confirmed our fears.
The House bill would have much broader and more harmful implications for the Medicare program – and for seniors.
In her letter, Secretary Sebelius says, the CR would, “severely impact the Medicare program.”
The secretary goes on to note the House CR would eliminate funding for Medicare prescription drug coverage, forcing seniors to pay more for their prescriptions.
The secretary said the House CR would disrupt payments to doctors, and cut out annual wellness visits, forcing seniors to pay out of pocket for preventive services.
In addition, Medicare beneficiaries may be forced to drop their Medicare Advantage plans and enroll in traditional fee-for-service programs.
It’s clear that the House CR would have dire consequences for the more than 46 million Americans who rely on Medicare every day.
Mr. President, in her letter, Secretary Sebelius also stressed the severe impact the House CR would have on children, working families and the most vulnerable among us.
The ACA expanded Medicaid, allowing states to cover low-income adults for the first time. The House CR would end this coverage, sending this vulnerable population back to the emergency room for treatment and putting hospitals on the hook for providing care.
The ACA also expanded access to services for people with disabilities and other long-term care needs. The CR would put an immediate stop to these programs and send people with disabilities back to the nursing home.
The ACA also extended the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two additional years. The House CR would revert back to prior law, ending funding for this vital program at the end of this month. The House CR would leave six million kids without access to coverage – no doctor’s appointments, no prescriptions, no cast to heal the occasional broken arm.
For three years, Republicans in the House have wasted taxpayer money, time and resources trying to stop the ACA, over and over again. They tried to repeal the law 40 times.
They even took their argument all the way to the Supreme Court. Of course, we all know what the high court said — the ACA is the law of the land.
People fear what they don’t know. I understand that. But let’s all take a deep breath here. As one Republican senator recently noted, it is “not rational” to think the Senate will vote to repeal, delay or defund the ACA. You know what? He’s right. It’s not rational. We won’t go back to the status quo.
This is complex legislation, and I am open to strengthening the law to better serve the American people just as this Congress did with Social Security and Medicare. Wouldn’t it be better if both parties worked together to improve the law? That’s what the American people expect of us. They don’t want the government to shut down or for America to default on its debt over the ACA.
A recent poll by CNBC found the vast majority of Americans — 59 percent — oppose defunding the ACA at the cost of a government shutdown or debt default.
We all have a responsibility to lead here. The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. We all need to work together to make it work for the families and businesses who depend on it instead of using it as a political football.
Enough is enough. It’s time for the hysterics to end. People need to give the ACA room to breathe and a chance to succeed. If we do so, I am confident America will be better for it and we will all be on the right side of history.