WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held a roundtable today to discuss health care reform. A copy of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) remarks, as prepared for delivery, follows below.
Thank you, Chairman Dodd, for holding this roundtable and for putting this Committee on a course to finally reform our nation’s broken health care system.
It is reform that is long overdue.
I would also like to thank our witnesses who, on very short notice, made it here today; especially Dr. Cosgrove from Cleveland Clinic, who is on the second panel.
The Clinic, as it’s known in my state of Ohio, delivers some of the most innovative and cost-effective health care in the country and we can learn from the example it has set.
In 1945, President Harry Truman got up before a joint session of Congress and said:
“Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection.”
Today, nearly 65 years later, we are still waiting for a health care system that delivers on the promise of affordable, quality health care for all. Waiting for reforms that lower costs for businesses and families buckling under the weight of skyrocketing premiums. Waiting for reforms that foster competition in the insurance market and give Americans more insurance options. Waiting for reforms that bring accountability to the system, ensuring patients get the highest quality care in the world. Waiting, in other words, for reforms that keep what’s working and fix what’s broken.
I’m hopeful today that the wait is nearly over.
And it’s not a moment too soon for many Ohioans who are one illness away from financial catastrophe.
Take, for example, Ann from Dayton, Ohio. She wrote to me last year to share her story.
In the past five and half years she has paid just over $125,000 in health care bills.
How can this be, you ask? Is she uninsured?
In fact, when her illness struck, she was a partner in a law firm with good insurance.
But once she became too sick to work, she lost her employer-sponsored insurance and was forced to fend for herself.
She and her family of four went on COBRA for as long as they could, then paid $27,000 a year for insurance on the individual market, where medical underwriting inflates premiums to astronomical levels.
She recently traded that plan in for a bare-bones policy that costs nearly $15,000 a year, but does not cover prescription drugs and has a $5,000 deductible.
As she writes in her letter: “This is not what insurance is supposed to be about.”
The bill that was introduced on Tuesday by Chairman Kennedy would take a number of steps to ensure that Americans – Americans who might desperately need care – do not meet the same fate as Ann and her family.
For one, it provides for new, sweeping regulation of the health insurance industry – banning pre-existing condition exclusions, medical underwriting, and annual or lifetime benefit caps.
No longer would insurance companies be able to cherry-pick healthy people and charge older, sicker Americans sky-high premiums.
Second, it works to make health insurance more affordable.
I recently heard the story of a woman named Jaclyn. She used to work at a child care center, but her employer did not offer health benefits – so when she discovered a lump in her left breast, she had nowhere to turn.
She tried the state Medicaid program, but – despite having an income in 2006 of $4,500 – she did not qualify. Her daughter was already grown and so she had no dependents, and that meant that she did not meet any of the eligibility categories.
She started chemo last year, but doesn’t know how she will pay the bills.
Chairman Kennedy’s bill would expand Medicaid eligibility for everyone to 150% and provide premium subsidies to other low income Americans.
Third, though we are still discussing the design, this bill includes a public health insurance option.
Not surprisingly, the health insurance lobby has launched a massive campaign to prevent inclusion of a public option, since they would have to compete against it.
I guess competition is a good thing…until you’re the one who has to do it.
Today, “private insurance competition” is an oxymoron in a lot of places.
In Ohio, the two largest insurance companies account for 58 percent of the market – in some Ohio cities, it’s 89 percent.
Finally, this bill would take steps to enhance the way we deliver health care in this country, focusing on quality instead of quantity and prevention instead of care denied or delayed.
Currently, community health worker programs like CHAP struggle to find funding to cover basic operational costs.
Chairman Kennedy’s bill would establish a grant program to promote positive health behaviors in medically underserved areas through the use of community health workers.
The bill would also address serious workforce shortages that exist across the spectrum – from nurses to pediatric specialists to dental care providers to primary care physicians.
I would like to again commend the Chairman and his staff and all the other members – on both sides of the aisle – who have contributed to this bill. I know we still have a lot of work to do, but I am optimistic that, on behalf of our constituents, we can finally get this done.