Skip to content

Floor Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: Stories of the Uninsured and Underinsured

(As prepared for delivery)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health,Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, today delivered the following remarks on the Senatefloor.

“Mr. President, we are now well into our seventh day of debate on the Patient Protection andAffordable Care Act. For many weeks, Republicans have made it clear that they intend to pullout the stops to kill health reform. Now, regrettably, they are making good on that pledge.“Our Republican colleagues have not even bothered to offer a constructive alternative. Instead,they have joined themselves at the hip with the health insurance companies, using the sametalking points . . . the same distortions and untruths about this bill . . . the same bogus, cooked-upstudies . . . the same scare tactics.

“They want to kill health reform, and their strategy comes down to one word: Fear.

“The defenders of the broken, abusive status quo in health insurance are trying to frighten theAmerican people.

“But, Mr. President, it’s not going to work. Because the American people don’t fear change inhealth care. They fear the status quo.

“They fear being denied coverage because they or a loved one have a preexisting condition.

“They fear being dropped by their health insurance company because they get cancer or chronicheart disease.

“They fear that if they get a serious illness, they will have to go to war with their insurancecompany in order to get it to pay the bills.

“They fear that if they get a serious illness and bump up against their policy’s annual or lifetimepayment cap, they will be forced into bankruptcy.

“Here’s what Americans fear: They know that, under the status quo, they are just one seriousillness away from financial catastrophe.

“Mr. President, Sarah Posekany of Cedar Falls, Iowa, is just one of millions of Americans whohave been plunged into financial ruin either because they are uninsured, or because theirinsurance company cut them off after they got sick.

“Sarah was diagnosed with Crohn's disease when she was 15 years old. During her first year ofcollege, she ran into complications from Crohn's, forcing her to drop her classes in order to healafter multiple surgeries. Because she was no longer a full-time student, her parents' privatehealth insurance company terminated her coverage.

“As Sarah puts it: "They didn't want to help, so I had to let the medical bills pile up."

“Four years later, she found herself $180,000 in debt, and was forced to file for bankruptcy.

“Sarah has undergone seven surgeries. And here’s what is most disturbing: Two of thosesurgeries came as a direct result of her not being able to afford medication.

“Sarah said: "When I don't have any insurance, and can't afford to treat myself, the diseaseprogresses to the point where I need surgery."

“Sarah still wants to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. But her bankruptcy and cripplingdebt will follow her where ever she goes, all because her parents' insurance company cancelledher coverage exactly when she needed it most.

“Sarah was able to complete a semester at Hawkeye Community College, but could not afford tocontinue. Because of her earlier bankruptcy, every bank she has applied to for student loans hasturned her down.

“Mr. President, this is why the Republicans’ scare tactics are not going to work. I repeat: TheAmerican people don’t fear change. They fear the status quo. They fear the abusive practicesthat, for health insurance companies, have become standard operating procedure.

“And, Mr. President, there is another reason why defenders of the status quo are going to fail.They believe that people lack compassion and don’t care about their 46 million fellowAmericans who do not have health insurance.

“Mr. President, I disagree. People care deeply about the plight of those without health coverage.People I talk to believe that this is a national shame – especially when it means that children donot have access to a doctor.

“All told, nearly 45,000 Americans die each year because they lack health insurance. A JohnsHopkins study found that children without health insurance who are hospitalized are 60 percentmore likely to die than those with insurance. Why? Because kids without health insurance aremuch less likely to get preventive care or to be taken to a doctor in the early stage of theirillness.

“Tasha Hudson of Des Moines, Iowa, is a single mother of three children, and she knows all toowell how difficult it is to meet the medical needs of her children. One of her children, Jayden,has special needs; he suffers from autism.

“Tasha left a job with her school district – which provided health insurance – to take a new job inthe private sector that paid 50 percent more. This allowed Tasha to buy a modest home for herfamily – the first home she had ever owned.

“But there was a problem. Her new, private-sector job does not come with health insurance.And despite her higher pay, she can’t begin to afford coverage. Ironically, her higher pay has ledto cuts in Jayden’s Medicaid benefits and the loss of child-care services.

“As a result, Tasha Hudson is now in the process of returning to the lower paying job – despiteits limited opportunities for advancement – for one reason: because it will provide healthinsurance for her family.

“Mr. President, my office is deluged by letters and emails with stories like Tasha’s – indeed,with stories that are even more wrenching and heartbreaking.

“I remember the great words of former Senator Hubert Humphrey: “The moral test of a nation ishow [it] treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight oflife, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the needy, and thehandicapped.”

“Mr. President, right now – with 46 million Americans without health insurance, without readyaccess to health care – our nation is failing that moral test.

“Of course, when I say “46 million Americans without health insurance,” that is simply anincomprehensible number. It is hard to put a human face on such a statistic. So consider thecase of just one of those 46 million Americans.

“Eleanor Pierce lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa. When her job with a local company was eliminated,she lost her health insurance. She had the option of purchasing COBRA insurance, but it wascompletely unaffordable. So she searched for coverage on the private, individual market, but wasalmost universally denied access because of her pre-existing condition of high blood pressure.

The only plans that would cover her came with premiums she could never hope to afford withoutan income.

“So Eleanor – at age 62, suffering from high blood pressure – had no choice but to go withoutinsurance, and hope for the best.

“But, Mr. President, “hope for the best” is no substitute for regular medical care. One year later,Eleanor suffered a massive heart attack. And, when all was said and done, she had racked up$60,000 in medical debt.

“Mr. President, I mentioned earlier that the Republicans have failed to come forward with anyconstructive alternative to the bill now before the Senate.

“But, Mr. President, if you are a 62-year-old woman with a serious heart condition and highblood pressure, but without insurance or proper medical care, you scarcely have a prayer. Youare on your own. And the odds of premature death are disturbingly high.

“We can and must do better in this nation.

“And we have the opportunity to do so, in this Congress, by passing the Patient Protection andAffordable Care Act.”