US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

In Floor Speech, Harkin Defends Affordable Care Act Benefits

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Congressional Republicans propose to reduce the deficit by – increasing deficits? 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the debate over funding of the government continues, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to make a strong defense of the Affordable Care Act.

“This is the most inexplicable part of this debate,” said Harkin.  “Republicans have played the Washington stage for all it’s worth over the last couple of years, making great and solemn speeches about the deficit and debt, grimly bringing us within hours of a government shutdown – all in the name of fiscal discipline. 

“But as a condition for agreeing to fund the government, what do they demand?  Repealing the best deficit-reducing measure in decades!  The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirms that the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit by more than $100 billion in the next ten years, and more than $1 trillion in the decade that follows. 

“So, let me get this straight.  The Republicans propose to reduce the deficit by – increasing deficits?,” he questioned.

The full text of Harkin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, is as follows.

“Mr. President, we find ourselves in yet another Alice in Wonderland moment in the Senate – again, we are on the brink of a government shutdown for no reason other than House Republicans’ absolute obsession with repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“Their strategy isn’t anything new – they’re running the same old plays out of the same old playbook they’ve used for three years.  Mind you, none of these attempts have worked – but failure’s no deterrent, if all you care about is scoring political points with your political base.  Forty-two times, Mr. President.  The House has voted 42 times to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act.  You’d think after the first 41, they’d get the sense it was a waste of time.  But no, the House is at it again – risking the widespread economic damage that a government shutdown would cause, just so they can indulge their political obsession yet one more time. 

“Enacting this resolution would be the equivalent of repealing the entire law.  Not only would it prohibit the federal government from continuing to implement the law, it would also deprive Americans of all of the law’s benefits – historic consumer protections, affordable coverage, and cheaper prescription drugs, just to name a few.

“Work on the insurance marketplaces – which open for businesses nationwide next Tuesday – would stop.  As a result, individuals and small businesses would no longer be able to enroll in affordable, comprehensive health insurance through the marketplaces – nor would they receive tax credits to help them with their premium payments. 

“In addition, the planned expansion of Medicaid would be cancelled.  Seven million Americans who are projected to enroll in the marketplaces next year, and 9 million through expanded Medicaid, would lose that coverage.  Over the next decade, the number of uninsured would rise by at least 25 million Americans. 

“As if 25 million more uninsured weren’t bad enough, this legislation would cancel all of the hard-earned, long-awaited consumer protections in the law that protect every American with insurance – like coverage of preexisting conditions and coverage of young people up to age 26 on their parent’s policy.  So we’d go back to the bad old days, when insurance companies were in the driver’s seat, telling you what kind of health care you’re entitled to and when. 

“Instead of protecting all Americans against arbitrary limits on coverage, repeal would take us back to the days when insurance companies could terminate your coverage just when you are sickest. 

“This would hurt families like Danny and Lisa Grasshoff from Texas, who were unable to find coverage that would pay for their son’s hemophilia treatment until the Affordable Care Act banned lifetime limits.  More than 105 million Americans are currently protected by this provision.

“Instead of allowing young people starting a new job or a new business, or going off to school, to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, repeal would make them fend for themselves in a chaotic market that offers too little coverage for too much money. 

“More than 3 million young people have taken advantage of this protection. 

“Instead of protecting the 130 million non-elderly Americans who have a preexisting condition --  like high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease – from denial of coverage, repeal would put insurance companies back in the drivers’ seat, picking and choosing whom to cover.

“Instead of helping all Americans prevent illness or disease by providing free preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies, repeal would allow insurers to charge expensive co-pays – as much as $300 – for these essential services.

“Repeal would deprive states and localities of vital funding to combat chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as funding to ensure that our kids have access to life-saving vaccines.  Thanks to health reform, the Prevention and Public Health Fund is saving lives and cutting healthcare costs by supporting such programs.

“Cutting off funding would immediately stop States’ work building Health Insurance Marketplaces, the transparent, easy-to-understand one-stop-shop where individuals and small businesses will purchase affordable coverage – starting next Tuesday.  These marketplaces have been endorsed by experts all across the political spectrum because they will create – for the first time – a real market for insurance, where individuals and small businesses have the same purchasing power and choice that only big companies enjoyed before. 

“This will have direct, pocketbook impact.  Premium rates are coming in for marketplaces across the country, and they’re much lower than projected – in fact, my home state of Iowa released rates last week that independent experts say are some of the lowest in the country.  This legislation would take these affordable options away from individuals and businesses.

“Most importantly, the exchanges are a centerpiece of a system that will bring coverage to more than 25 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured – living with the oppressive fear of being one illness away from bankruptcy, or not knowing if they can afford a doctor’s visit for their child.  Why would anyone want to stop that?  Why would anyone tell states, “stop what you’ve been doing to serve your citizens”?  But that’s exactly what this resolution does.

“If we pass this resolution, Congress will turn its back on America’s seniors, tossing out hard-won improvements in Medicare benefits and damaging the program’s fiscal health.

“It would take us back to the days when Medicare prescription drug coverage had a giant gap – a “doughnut hole” – in the middle, exposing millions of seniors to the full cost of drugs just when they need the most assistance.  Health reform closes that “doughnut hole” by 2020.  6.6 million seniors have already saved more than $7 billion in discounts on drugs purchased in the doughnut hole.  In Iowa, seniors on Medicare saved $76 million on prescription drugs because of the Affordable Care Act.  Repealing reform would end all that, increasing seniors’ drug prices by $5,000 per person over the next ten years.

“It would roll back the unprecedented investment the Affordable Care Act makes in Medicare fraud prevention – like increasing criminal penalties, launching innovative technologies to detect and pursue, and putting more “cops on the beat” to preserve Medicare funds for beneficiaries, not quacks.  The taxpayer saves $8 for each dollar spent on fighting fraud.

“It would hurt seniors’ access to health care in rural areas by eliminating incentive payments in the Affordable Care Act paid to rural primary care providers.

“It would raise out of pocket costs for every senior who gets a wellness visit or a preventive service – under the Affordable Care Act, seniors pay no cost-sharing for these services.  And more than simply raising costs, it would discourage seniors from seeking that care in the first place.  In 2012, more than 34 million seniors got free preventive services in Medicare.

“It would roll back improvements to Medicare payment policy, coordination and efficiency that extend the life of the Medicare trust fund by a decade.

“Finally, Mr. President, we come to the most inexplicable part of this debate.  Republicans have played the Washington stage for all it’s worth over the last couple of years, making great and solemn speeches about the deficit and debt, grimly bringing us within hours of a government shutdown – all in the name of fiscal discipline.

“But as a condition for agreeing to fund the government, what do they demand?  Repealing the best deficit-reducing measure in decades!  The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirms that the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit by more than $100 billion in the next ten years, and more than $1 trillion in the decade that follows. 

“So, let me get this straight.  The Republicans propose to reduce the deficit by – increasing deficits?

“Mr. President, let’s stop the silly games.  This debate isn’t about deficit reduction or the nation’s fiscal health.  It’s about tearing down health reform, no matter the cost.  It’s about Republicans giving control back to their good friends at wealthy, powerful health insurance companies to raise your rates, hold on to your money by denying you benefits, and make absurd profits.

“The Republicans’ obsession with repealing the new health reform law is not based on budget considerations.  It is based strictly on ideology.  They oppose the law’s crackdown on abuses by health insurance companies.  And they oppose any serious effort by the federal government to secure health insurance coverage for tens of millions of Americans who currently have none. 

“Well I think it’s clear that the Republicans are on the wrong side of history here.  Two Iowans wrote me recently, and they make clear what this is really all about.  Angela from Edgewood Iowa writes that she has “a family history of cancer, and now I have been able to have the screenings I need.”  She asked me how she can volunteer to spread the word to others.  And John from Des Moines says that, “because of the ACA I have been able to start my own business… I've been able to purchase coverage and am looking forward to the exchanges.” 

“The choice is to go forward, or to be dragged backward.  Let us come together, as a united American people, to create a reformed health care system that works not just for the healthy and the wealthy, but for all Americans.”   

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