Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor speech: Turning Around the Train Wreck of Obamacare

Posted on November 5, 2013

         I thank the senator from Alaska for her excellent remarks.  I was pleased I was able to hear them.  The senator from Alaska and the senator from Massachusetts were at the hearing this morning when the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services talked about the health care law. 

            I thought the senator from Alaska was especially cogent in pointing out the difficulties and the differences between those who live in Alaska and their inability to connect to the services in the new health care law.  If I remember correctly, she said only three had been able to enroll and she pointed out the differences in time. 

            I wish to spend a few minutes reflecting on what happened this morning and what I said to Ms. Tavenner, the administration's witness.  I began by telling her a story, a story about 16,000 Tennesseans who have insurance through something called CoverTN, a low-cost, narrow coverage state program.  Obamacare is canceling their policies, those 16,000 policies.  CoverTN apparently is an example of what the president has called "bad apples," an insurance plan that Washington has decided isn't good enough for you. 

            I recently heard from one of those Tennesseans whose policy will be cancelled on January 1.  Her name is Emilie, and she is 39 years of age.  She has lupus and lives in Middle Tennessee.  She told me: 

          “I cannot keep my current plan because it does not meet the standards of coverage.  This alone is a travesty.  CoverTN has been a lifeline....With the discontinuation of CoverTN, I am being forced to purchase a plan through the Exchange....My insurance premiums alone will increase a staggering 410%.  My out-of-pocket expense will increase by more than $6,000.00 a year [including subsidies].  Please help me understand how this is ‘affordable.’"

            Our health care system makes up nearly 20 percent of our economy, touching the lives of every American.  Today Obamacare is pushing that 20 percent of our economy in the wrong direction. 

            As the president has said, this law is more than a website that will not work.  It is a law transforming our health care system in the wrong direction by increasing premiums, canceling insurance plans, destroying patient relationships with doctors, raising taxes, forcing people into Medicaid, spending $500 billion Medicare dollars on a new program instead of using the money to make Medicare more solvent, encouraging employers to reduce their employees to a 30-hour work week, and having the IRS fine Americans for failing to sign up for insurance on a website that doesn't work. 

            The president has promised – at this morning’s hearing I read from an iPad on the White House Web site.  The President’s Web site says:  “If you like your plan you can keep it and you don't have to change a thing due to the health care law.” 

            It says, “If you like your plan, you can keep it, and you don't have to change a thing due to the health care law.” 

            In fact, the law cancels millions of individual policies.  For millions of others, employers are dropping insurance programs as they discover the added costs of Obamacare.  For these Americans, the new promise is if you want health care, go find it on a website that the administration says will not be working properly until the end of November.  That is an unwelcome Christmas present, to have only two weeks to shop for and buy a new insurance policy by December 15 so people are covered next year when Obamacare outlaws their policies.

            This administration had three-and-a-half years to set up the Web site.  Millions of Americans will have two weeks to buy their insurance. 

            The president put Secretary Sebelius in charge of implementing this law.  I have called on her to resign because this has hurt so many Americans. 

            Before the Internet, RCA could tell us every day how many records Elvis was selling.  Ford could tell us every day how many cars they were selling.  McDonald's would tell us every day how many hamburgers it sold.  Congressman Issa has put on his committee's website notes from meetings at an Obama administration war room where apparently they are telling each other how many people are enrolling in health care. 

            I asked Ms. Tavenner this morning if she knew how many people are enrolling, how many have tried, what level of insurance they are buying, and in what ZIP Code they live.  Why don't you tell us?  Why don't you tell Congress?  Why don't you tell the American people? 

            She said she would tell us by the end of the month -- but we need to know every day.  We need to know every week at least.  Governors need to know.  As they make decisions about expanding Medicaid, wouldn't it help to know how many of these new enrollees are going into Medicaid?

            Members of Congress need to know.  We have appropriated at least $400 million for this website that doesn't work.  The American people need to know.  They might gain confidence in the system if they could see that every day more people were signing up for this or that. 

            I can't get over the fact that we are not being told how many are enrolled, how many are trying, what kind of insurance they are buying, where they live.  We have a right to know that. 

            Why doesn't the administration tell us that?  One senator has described the new health care law as an approaching train wreck.  I know something about trains. My grandfather was a railroad engineer in Newton, Kansas, when I was a little boy.  I was sure he was probably the most important person in the world sitting in that big locomotive.  His job was to drive a steam engine locomotive onto what they called a round table, turn the train around and head it in the right direction.  That was the only way you could turn something that big that fast. 

            That is what our country needs to do.  We need to turn this train around.  We need to turn this law around and head it in the right direction. 

            Obamacare is the wrong direction because it expands a health care delivery system that we already knew cost too much. 

            What is the right direction?  The right direction is more choices and more competition that lowers costs so more Americans can afford to buy insurance. 

            Don't expect Republicans to show up on this Senate floor with our 3,000-page plan to move the health care delivery system in the way we think it ought to go.  We don't believe in that approach.  We are policy skeptics, one might say.  We don't believe these big comprehensive plans are wise enough to do what needs to be done.  Instead, we believe we should change our health care delivery system step by step. 

            I remember during the health care debate in 2010 I counted the number of times Republicans spoke on the floor about our step-by-step plan to take the health care delivery system in a different direction -- 173 times just during 2010. 

            These are some of the steps we suggested and still do suggest that we should take to turn the train around and head it in the right direction: 

            Make Medicare solvent.  The trustees have said that in 13 years it will not have enough money to pay hospital bills.  I know plenty of Tennesseans who are counting on Medicare to pay their hospital bills. 

            Reform Traditional Medicare to compete on a level playing field with Medicare Advantage.  That would provide competition and more choices for seniors.  The Congressional Budget Office says it would save taxpayers money. 

            Make Medicaid flexible.  When I was governor of Tennessee in the 1980s, Medicaid was 8 percent of the state budget.  Today it is 26 percent.  As a result, Democratic and Republican governors of Tennessee have been told by Washington to spend money on Medicaid that they instead would rather spend on higher education. 

            Make Medicaid more flexible.  Perhaps we can cover more people and set our own priorities. 

            Encourage employee wellness incentives.  We talk a good game in the Senate about that, but the administration's regulation actually limits the ability of employers to say to employees if you have a healthy lifestyle, your insurance will be cheaper. 

            We should repeal that regulation and make it easier for employers to encourage that kind of behavior, and offer cheaper insurance. 

            Allow small businesses to pool their resources and offer insurance together.  We call that small business health plans. 

            All of these steps, by the way, are in legislative form.  They are bills we have introduced.  They are steps we could take today if we had enough votes to pass them, turning the train around and heading it in a different direction. 

            Buy insurance across state lines.  If Americans could look on the Internet and buy insurance across state lines that suited their needs, perhaps more Americans could afford insurance.  Isn't that what we want to do? 

            Change the 30-hour workweek to 40 hours.  Both Democrats and Republicans support this idea.  I am not sure where it ever came from, but it is one of the worst features of Obamacare.  It creates a big incentive to cause businesses to reduce the number of working hours from 40 to 30 so their employees will be part-time and the business won't be affected by the Obamacare rule.  That creates consternation within business, and it doesn't create good relations between the employer and the employee.  Think about the employee.  Think about the pay cut from 40 hours to 30 hours.  Think about the employee going out to find another part-time job at, say, another restaurant.  Why not give these employees a 33 percent pay increase?  That would be a pretty good way to get up above the so-called minimum wage and give businesses a chance to have full-time employees again. 

            So these are all steps that would change the health care delivery system by changing its direction away from expanding a health care system that we know already costs too much and sending it in the direction of choice and competition and finding ways to lower the cost of health care plans so more Americans can afford to buy insurance. 

            The 39-year-old Tennessee woman whom I talked about this morning to Ms. Tavenner, the woman named Emilie who is losing insurance because Obamacare has decided that her plan isn't good enough for her, finished her story with these words: 

            “This is one of the biggest betrayals our government has ever been committed on its citizens.  I beg of you to continue to fight for those, like me, who would only ask to be allowed to continue to have what we already enjoy.  A fair health insurance plan at a fair price.  Please find a way to return to affordable health care.” 

            One good way to do that is to put the president's words into law:  "If you like your health plan, you can keep it."  Senator Johnson of Wisconsin has offered that legislation.  I have cosponsored it, as have others. 

            My message to Emilie is that I am going to do my best to turn this train around and head our health care delivery system in the right direction, so that she can buy and keep health care insurance that she can afford. 

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