September 28,2005

Baucus Urges Swift Passage of Katrina Health Package

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Today, U.S. Senator Max Baucus, ranking member of the SenateFinance Committee, delivered the following speech on the Senate floor urging passage of S.1716, the Emergency Health Care Relief Act.

Baucus drafted the legislation with Chairman Grassley of the Senate Finance Committee.A tax relief measure co-authored by Baucus and Grassley was signed into law by President Bushlast Friday. A letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt from SenatorsBaucus and Grassley supporting S. 1716 is attached. The statement follows:

Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Max Baucus
Urging Passage of Hurricane Katrina Health Relief

Mr. President, I come to the floor once again to insist that the Senate act on theemergency health care needs of Katrina survivors. The Senate must pass the Katrina healthpackage that Chairman Grassley and I put together. To help the victims of Katrina, we must passthis bill today.

Mr. President, this legislation has broad support. This morning, the Finance Committeeheard testimony from the Governors of the states that suffered most from this massive disaster.Governor Blanco of Louisiana supports our bill. Governor Barbour of Mississippi supports ourbill. Governor Riley of Alabama supports our bill. To help these Governors, and to help thesestates, we must pass this bill today.

Also at the Finance Committee, Senator Lincoln told of a woman with diabetes whomour bill would help. This woman escaped the flooding by riding on a refrigerator. She needsmedical help. But she was told that because she did not have children, she did not fit into one ofthe categories that would qualify her for Medicaid. To help her, we must pass this bill today.

On Monday, I told the Senate about Tina Eagerton, who fled Louisiana when 7 monthspregnant, but could not find a Florida doctor who would accept her Louisiana Medicaid card. Tohelp Tina Eagerton, we must pass this bill today.

I have told the Senate about Rosalind Breaux, who has colon cancer, and was scheduledfor her third round of chemotherapy on August 31, a day after flooding began, while her husbandhas lost his job and there are questions about his insurance. To help Rosalind Breaux, we mustpass this bill today.

The administration sent a letter last night. I have it right here. The administration claimsthat it can provide “relief without the need for congressional action” through its new Medicaidwaiver policy.

But the administration’s waivers would fall short of what our legislation provides. Letme cite three ways that the administration’s policy would fall short.

First, the administration’s waivers limit eligibility for Medicaid coverage to only thosegroups of people who have traditionally been eligible for Medicaid. Adults without children, nomatter how poor they are or how much they need health care, would not be covered under theadministration’s policy.

The woman with diabetes would not be covered. In this time of crisis, that just makes nosense. Limiting access to benefits in this way would mean leaving tens of thousands of Katrina’svictims without aid.

After Katrina, Louisiana dispatched Medicaid eligibility workers to more than 200shelters to enroll evacuees in Medicaid. Of the 4,000 potentially eligible families screened inthese shelters, more than 1 in 5 were screened out as ineligible. They did not meet Louisiana’straditional eligibility rules.

And 1 of every 3 people who have applied for Medicaid in Louisiana following Katrinahave been denied coverage. Most did not meet the traditional eligibility rules.

Adult Katrina survivors need access to health care. A recent survey of Katrina evacueesin Houston shelters found that most of the adult evacuees without children were uninsured.Among those, more than 40 percent reported having a chronic condition. And a third reportedhaving trouble getting the prescription drugs that they need.

Differentiating among individuals during this time of need is just not right. HurricaneKatrina did not differentiate. Katrina hit all the residents of the Gulf Coast, hard. We should notdifferentiate in our efforts to help those in need.

The second key difference between the administration’s policy and what our bill does isthe funds provided to defray the cost of uncompensated care that thousands of health careproviders across our nation are giving to Katrina survivors. The administration has said it willprovide an uncompensated care fund. But the administration has not given any furtherinformation about how much would be provided. The administration has not given informationabout how it would be spent.

By contrast, our bill includes an uncompensated care fund of up to $800 million. Thatfund could be spent on compensating those health care providers who have seen a dramaticincrease or drop in their patient load as a result of Katrina. The administration promises. Butunder our bill there would be no doubt.

Third, our bill would provide 100 percent federal funding for all evacuees covered underMedicaid, wherever they are, and for the affected states. By contrast, the administration’s waiverpolicy promises to “make states whole.” But I have serious questions about how they coulddeliver on that promise, without legislation. It is unclear that the administration could, under itscurrent statutory authority, provide these additional funds to states. I have no doubt that itintends to. I just do not believe that it has the legal authority to do so.

At the same time, the administration has asked the three most affected states to signmemoranda of understanding making them financially responsible for paying the cost ofevacuees’ care in other states. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama need our help, not more billsto pay.

Mr. President, it is an outrage that a small number of willful Senators continue to stallthis bill. Hurricane Katrina’s health costs continue to spill in waves across the Gulf Coastregion. Victims continue to suffer without proper medical care.

Our bill would restore immediate access to basic health care. Our bill would relieve thefinancial burden health-care providers have shouldered.

Mr. President, we must act. And thus, at the appropriate time, I intend to join with myColleagues in asking consent for the Senate to pass our bill.