June 22,2017

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Taylor Harvey (202) 224-4515

Wyden Explains Destructive Consequences of Senate Health Bill

As Prepared for Delivery

It’s been a rough day for the Senate Republican health care plan. Earlier this morning, we had our first opportunity to look at this bill in the light of day. The debate that unfolded on this floor made it clear that our colleagues are committed to a partisan scheme to jam their bill through at any cost. There will not be a full debate or bipartisan input.

And if you read through the fine print in this destructive proposal, as the public has had an opportunity to do over the last several hours, it becomes clear why my colleagues on the other side have kept this bill hidden and plan to jam it through as quickly as possible.

This proposal is stunning in its sameness to the cruel House bill that the American people have rejected outright. And I want to warn against anybody buying into the sales job that’s inevitably going to unfold in the days ahead. This bill may change, but Republicans will only be putting lipstick on a devastating blow to Americans’ health care.

This is a plan to raise costs, slash Medicaid, and cut millions of people off their health care to pay for tax breaks for the fortunate few. My colleagues on the other side have spent the last month telling every reporter and constituent who would listen that they were throwing the House bill out -- they were starting fresh with a kinder and gentler bill. That turned out to be fiction.

Republicans are going to keep telling Americans they’re fixing their health care right up until the second it’s taken away.

This bill doubles down on the meanness even the president saw in the House plan. The Senate Republican plan does not fix the problems with people’s health care -- it creates new ones. So after a day of pouring over this bill, I want to lay out some of the most devastating effects this bill will have.

First, Senate Republicans are so committed to slashing Medicaid, their cuts to Medicaid under the cap are even deeper than the House. Today Medicaid comes with a guarantee to vulnerable people and families who walk an economic tightrope that if you get sick or suffer an injury, you’ll get the care you need.

The Senate Republican plan ends that promise-- it ends the Medicaid program as we know it for good. Do not be distracted by date changes or sweeteners for people already enrolled. This is a radical plan plucked from the wish list of the far right, and it’s cloaked in the complicated language of inflation rates and dollar figures.

When you talk about slashing Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars, you’re not simply talking about “bending the cost curve.” You’re talking about lives.

Medicaid helps pick up the tab for for two out of three seniors in nursing homes in America. These are people who’ve done everything right. They’re our elderly parents, our grandmothers and grandfathers. They’ve worked hard and scrimped and saved. But it’s expensive growing old in America, and so Medicaid is there to support them and cover the cost of nursing home care when their savings run out.

The Senate Republican plan slashes Medicaid so deeply that states will be forced into cutting benefits and access, and the guarantee of nursing home care will be in danger. This is one of the greatest threats seniors have ever faced, and it’s being imposed on them by an act of Congress.

No senior citizen in America should worry about winding up on the street. Families should not have to worry about where they’ll find the money to cover the cost of a nursing home -- $90,000 dollars a year on average. Independence, safety and comfort in old age must not become a privilege reserved for the wealthy in America.

Second, the age tax in the Senate Republican health plan will hit older Americans between 50 and 64 like a wrecking ball. They’ll be forced to pay several times as much as a younger person for health insurance. You’re going to see older people desperately hoping and praying that they hold onto their health until they make it to 65 and enroll in Medicare. I’d like to hear somebody try to explain what health care problem that’s fixing or why it’s a good approach to health policy.

Third, Senate Republicans cooked up a scheme to decimate the value of middle class tax cuts for health care and send deductibles through the roof. Here’s how this works. A whole lot of families in the middle class are going to lose their tax benefits outright. Then, as if that’s not enough harm, this plan cheapens the value of the tax benefits that were created under the Affordable Care Act. It’s a scheme to force people into bargain basement insurance plans with sky-high deductibles. It risks kicking off a death spiral in states where the private insurance markets are stable and competitive today.

Fourth, Republicans have twisted a part of the Affordable Care Act I wrote to promote state innovation, and they’re using it to give insurance companies the power to run roughshod over individuals. It’s called section 1332 waivers. What we did in 2009 was tell states that the Affordable Care Act was going to set a new bar for insurance in terms of coverage and affordability. And we told states, if you think you can do even better, you can get a waiver to try an innovative new approach. And our system built in protections to make sure that people would be protected -- that lives would be protected.

The Republican plan wipes those protections out. It tells states, if you want to do worse, go right ahead. And in fact, the Senate Republican plan offers states a bribe to end basic health protections and lower the bar for insurance. You’ll see insurance companies given a green light to cut essential benefits out of the plans they sell on the open market.

Take maternity care as an example. The Affordable Care Act banned the practice of price gouging women just because of their gender. But the Republican plan takes the side of insurance companies in this particular debate.

On a fundamental level, this plan says that health insurance in America should be based on what men need, and what women need should cost extra. Services like maternity care will be an add-on item, and that means women will face higher costs just because they’re women.

Fifth, this proposal attacks Planned Parenthood and deprives hundreds of thousands of women of the right to see the doctor of their choosing. Nevermind that there is already an airtight ban on taxpayer dollars funding abortions.

Never mind that Planned Parenthood doesn’t get a single dime of federal funding above what’s available to other Medicaid providers. Nevermind that Planned Parenthood is where millions of women get routine medical care from doctors they know and trust -- services like basic checkups, cancer screenings, preventive care, HIV tests. The Senate Republican bill continues this ideological crusade against Planned Parenthood, and it’s going to cost women across this country the right to see the doctor they trust.

Sixth, at a time when the opioid epidemic is ripping apart communities from one corner of this country to another, this bill would be a devastating setback in the fight against opioid abuse.

No community has been spared from this crisis, and I’d wager that nearly every member of this body has come to this floor and spoken about the impact it has had on their state at one point or another. It would be hard to forget the parade of presidential candidates who went through state  after state claiming that their plan was the best plan to end the crisis. But now the Senate Republican health care bill would make this crisis far worse.  

Medicaid is the only lifeline that thousands and thousands of people across this country have in their struggle to put their lives back together after falling victim to opioids. For thousands and thousands of people over the last few years, the treatment they’ve gotten through Medicaid has been their escape from a downward spiral that too often leads to heroin abuse and overdose deaths. But the Republican plan would take that lifeline away.

Some on the other side have proposed creating a separate pool of money -- a separate slush fund -- to replace the loss of treatment through Medicaid.

Make no mistake, this is bad proposal based on a complete misunderstanding of this crisis, and it’s not going to work. This epidemic is a public health crisis, and fighting it getting people the health care they need. That means treating substance abuse disorders ought to be the same as treating other diseases. This country doesn’t pay for heart surgery through grant programs. This country doesn’t pay for chemotherapy through congressional appropriations. If you’re sick and have health coverage, you get the care you need. Anything less than that when it comes to opioid addiction treatment is going to fail.

Finally, when you listen to that parade of horribles -- all the harm this bill would do to generations of Americans across the country -- you have to wonder why my colleagues on the other side would push this bill forward. It’s a simple answer.

This bill takes health care away from millions of Americans and raises costs for millions more to pay for tax breaks for the fortunate few. This isn’t a debate about two competing visions of health care, one liberal and one conservative.

One side in this debate wants to protect Americans’ health coverage, make sure they can go to the doctors they trust and afford the medical care they need. The other side in this debate has a plan to take away health coverage and raise the cost of care for vulnerable people, the middle class and families struggling to get by -- all to pay for tax breaks for the wealthiest few.

This is an out and out attack on millions of Americans health and well being. In the debate that played out on the floor this morning, it was suggested several times that Democrats turned down a chance to participate in this process. That is completely, entirely, 100 percent false.

I am the ranking member of the committee that is responsible for health care. I have not once been asked by a single Republican to work on this bill or discuss fixes to the Affordable Care ct. The claim that Democrats have refused to work in a bipartisan way is fiction -- a gross fiction.

It’s clear now that the only way to bring this partisan process to a halt is for Americans to stand up and speak out. Change won’t come from the top down. It won’t start here in this building. It will start from the bottom up. So it’s time for Americans to make their voices heard.