July 20,2017

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Contact: Taylor Harvey (202) 224-4515

Wyden: Republicans Don't Have to Choose Calamity or Disaster on Health Care

As Prepared for Delivery

I’ll have some remarks on health care in just a moment, but first I want to say this about the senior Senator from Arizona.  John McCain has fought through war and withstood torture. There’s nobody tougher than John McCain, and my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. 

If you thought the Trumpcare debate here in the Senate met its end on Tuesday, apparently you can think again. The zombie is stirring. And the latest attempt by the majority to cobble together 50 votes, according to reports, comes down to waving a $200 billion slush fund in front of Senators from states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. So a one-time slush fund is supposed to be enticing enough to vote for a bill that would still slash Medicaid to the bone. Let’s be realistic about what that slush fund represents in the context of this overall plan. Senate Republicans are steering tens of millions of Americans toward a cliff and offering the world’s smallest pillow to break the fall.

Before I go further on the specifics of what the majority has on offer, I want to step back and take a look at what the American people have been subjected to over the course of this debate. Because in my view, this is the absolute worst of Washington.

In the crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the ACA, there’s been the AHCA -- the House Trumpcare bill. That’s the one that earned a big “victory” ceremony in the Rose Garden. Next it was the BCRA -- the Senate Trumpcare bill. Then a second version of the BCRA. Then there was the ORRA -- the bill that I call repeal and run that got its start in 2015. Then this morning the public got a look at a third version of the BCRA.

If that doesn’t have your head spinning, look at the strategy that’s been coming out of the White House over the last few days. The president first endorsed the Senate Trumpcare bill. Then it was repeal-only. Then, while his administration sabotages the Affordable Care Act, he said everybody should just sit back and watch what happens. Then it was back to calling for the Senate majority to pass Trumpcare.

Nobody in this chamber, other than perhaps the majority leader himself, can claim to know what’s coming down the pike on health care. So with the health and well-being of every American at stake in this debate, this shadowy and garbled process ought to leave your jaw on the floor.

But still, Senate Republicans are speeding toward a vote on something. And the leadership is dangling a $200 billion slush fund to help round up the votes. This slush fund is zero consolation to the millions of Americans who live in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. It is zero consolation to the tens of millions of middle-class families who are going to have their tax cuts for health care ripped away and see their premiums skyrocket. It is zero consolation to middle class families who are panicked over whether they’ll be able to take care of their elderly parents and grandparents when long-term care through Medicaid is cut.

All this slush fund would do is delay a little bit of the pain for a short time in states that expanded Medicaid. But that slush fund will run dry -- that’s a fact. State budgets will get hit like a wrecking ball. And then there’s no escaping the consequences of whatever the Senate passes. If you had objections to Trumpcare or a repeal-only bill yesterday, this doesn’t change a thing.

Just a few hours ago, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put out an analysis of the third version of the Senate Republican health care bill. If you were hoping the third time would be a charm, I’ve got bad news.

It’s still going to send premiums through the roof. It’s still going to kick 22 million Americans off their health care. It’s still going to make health care unaffordable to millions of people with pre-existing conditions.

And if you care about the affordability of health coverage, here’s a statistic that ought to leave you speechless. Under the Senate Republican plan, in 2026, a middle-aged American who brings home $26,500 a year will face a deductible of $13,000.

Thirteen. Thousand. Dollars.

Anybody watching at home should remember that figure the next time they hear that the Senate Republican bill lowers costs or puts the patient at the center of care. If this plan becomes law, that individual with a $13,000 deductible is one bad injury or diagnosis away from personal bankruptcy.

And how does that figure compare to the system on the books today, you might ask. Under the Affordable Care Act, that same individual’s deductible would be only 800 bucks.

Of course, the other option being put forward by Senate Republican leaders is a repeal-only strategy, and they claim it’ll have a two-year transition. But the numbers from the CBO analysis make it clear that the idea of a transition after a repeal bill passes is a fantasy. Repeal and Run means seventeen million Americans will lose coverage in the first year, and 32 million Americans will lose coverage within a decade. Premiums in private market plans will double.

And let’s not forget that behind those numbers are real lives. They are families worried about the future. They’re young people who’ve been through cancer scares. They’re single parents who work multiple jobs to put food on the table.

I’ve held 54 town hall meetings in Oregon since January when this health care debate kicked off. Trump counties, Clinton counties -- every corner of the state.

Each of those meetings is dominated by people’s fears about what’s going to happen to their health care. But as this debate reaches a climax, there is zero clarity -- even here in the halls of the Capitol building -- of what’s coming next.

In fact, my friend from South Dakota Senator Thune, a member of the Finance Committee and his party’s leadership team, spoke to a reporter just a short while ago. He couldn’t say what the Senate would take up if the first procedural vote passes next week, whether it would be Trumpcare or a straight repeal bill.

So my colleagues on the other side are being asked by their leadership to walk into the abyss on health care. The public will be left guessing about what comes next. The only guarantee, should that first procedural vote succeed, is that both options Senate Republican leaders are putting on the table will raise premiums, make care unaffordable for those with pre-existing conditions, and leave tens of millions of Americans without health coverage.

So let me repeat the message that my Democratic colleagues and I have been delivering at every opportunity. The choice between Trumpcare and straight repeal of the ACA is false.

Nobody is being forced to choose between calamity and disaster. Democrats and Republicans absolutely can work together on the health care challenges facing the country.

I’ve heard enough of the back-and-forth in this debate to know that there is bipartisan interest in flexibility for states, and I wrote an entire section of the ACA that’s all about state flexibility. In my view, there ought to be room to work on a bipartisan basis with respect to bringing down prescription drug costs. And there is bipartisan interest in getting more competition and more consumers into the insurance markets -- more predictability and certainty. But if you are serious about ensuring a robust private insurance market, this crusade to repeal the ACA needs to end now. Insurers are making decisions at this very moment. All eyes are on us to bring certainty back to the marketplace.

I know there are Republican Senators who would like to tackle these challenges on a bipartisan basis. And the message my colleagues and I are sending is -- we are here with open arms. Instead of taking the partisan route and causing devastation in our health care system, let’s work together to make health care better and more affordable for all Americans.