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Statement by Senator Tom Harkin On Amendment to Defund the Affordable Care Act

*As Prepared for Delivery*

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered a speech on the Senate floor today denouncing another Republican attack on the Affordable Care Act. Following is the text of his remarks, as prepared for delivery.

“Madam President, The Senate has before it today an amendment to the continuing resolution that, at first glance, seems very curious.  This amendment would prohibit any funds from being used to carry out the Affordable Care Act.  That’s a strange approach, Madam President.  Effectively, the amendment would remove the engine from health reform while the train is steaming down the track.  Why would you take such a round-about approach?  If you want to derail health reform so much, why not just try to stop it head on? 

“The reason is that opponents of the Affordable Care Act have already tried a frontal assault, a debate on the merits – and they’ve failed.  Republicans in the House and Senate have tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act no less than 33 times—and failed every single time. But I guess what you can’t do directly, you try to do indirectly.   Now they’re throwing the kitchen sink at us, trying to undermine health reform by any possible means. 

“This strategy – in which the law would remain, but there would be no funding for states to take advantage of it – only makes sense if, like Republicans, you’re absolutely obsessed with tearing down health reform, or if you think there’s some political advantage in it.  It is unfortunate that some folks missed the election results.  The American people voted to reelect President Obama, and rejected the candidate who advocating dismantling the Affordable Care Act.  It is time to move on.

“Make no mistake, this amendment is the equivalent of repeal.  By depriving HHS of all funding to implement the law, it would turn back the clock on all we’ve accomplished over the last year. 

“The Administration would no longer be able to build insurance exchanges, or enforce the Act’s requirements on private insurers.  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 the Grasshoffs 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 100 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.  That would hurt folks like Emily Schlichting, who suffers from a rare automimmune disorder.  This would have made her uninsurable in the bad old days.  But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, she’s able to stay on her parents’ policy until she’s 26.  More than 3 million young people have taken advantage of this protection.  At a HELP Committee hearing, Emily said this: ‘Young people are the future of this country and we are the most affected by reform – we’re the generation that is most uninsured.  We need the Affordable Care Act because it is literally an investment in the future of this country.’

“Instead of protecting nearly half of 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 health care 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 in October of this year.  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.  According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, small business coverage purchased through an exchange will—and I quote—‘have lower administrative costs, on average, than the policies those firms would buy under current law, particularly for very small firms.’

“Most importantly, the exchanges are a centerpiece of a system that will bring coverage to more than 32 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 amendment does.

“If we pass this amendment, 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 ‘donut 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 ‘donut hole’ by 2020.  6.1 million seniors have already saved more than $5.7 billion in discounts on drugs purchased in the doughnut hole.  Repealing reform would end all that, increasing seniors’ drug prices by $3,500 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.

“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.

“And since Republicans are using the blunt instrument of defunding all activities related to health reform – including paying the federal employees who administer Medicare – Secretary Sebelius has informed us that payments to Medicare providers would be significantly disrupted by this amendment.

“Finally, Madam President, we come to the part of this debate which even Alice in Wonderland would have a tough time understanding.  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 a trillion in the decade that follows.  Repealing it would add those hundreds of billions back the deficit.

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

“We all remember William Buckley’s conservative motto.  He said that the role of conservatives is ‘to stand athwart history yelling stop!

“In 1935, Franklin Roosevelt and Congress passed Social Security, providing basic retirement security for every American.  Republicans fought it bitterly.   And 75 years later, they are still trying to undo it! In 1965, Lyndon Johnson and Congress passed Medicare, ensuring seniors’ access to decent health care.  Republicans fought it bitterly.  And 45 years later, they are still trying to undo it!

“Well, here they go again!  Let us listen to the American people.  Let us leave behind ideological obsessions.Let us work together to make the law even better.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.”