Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor speech: Calling for weekly reports on Obamacare exchanges

Posted on October 28, 2013

         Before the Internet, RCA knew how many records Elvis sold every day.  Before the Internet, Ford knew how many cars they were selling every day.  Before the Internet, McDonald's could tell you how many hamburgers it was selling every day.  Yet the Obama administration cannot tell us how many Americans have tried to sign up for Obamacare.  They can't tell us how many Americans did sign up for Obamacare.  They can't tell us what level of insurance they bought, nor can they tell us in what zip code they live. 

            They told us that 20 million Americans have visited the Obamacare Web site.  They have the basic information to shop, but how many have tried to sign up?  How many did sign up?  Where do they live?  What kind of insurance did they buy?  Not only have they not told us, they have done their best to keep us from finding out. 

            With WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden spilling our beans every day, what is happening on the Obamacare exchanges is the biggest secret left in Washington, DC.  The National Security Agency could learn lessons from Secretary Sebelius.  We should not have to rely on anonymous sources to get basic information about what is happening with Obamacare. 

            Therefore, I am introducing legislation today to require the administration answer the following questions every week:  How many people tried to sign up?  How many people did sign up?  What level of insurance did they buy?  In what ZIP code do they live?  What are they doing to fix the problems?  This is not complicated information.

            In the Internet age, the administration ought to be able to provide this information not every week but every day.  In fact, they should be able to provide it every minute.  We should not have to pass a law to find these things out.  I hope that every senator will support this simple request that this legislation makes.  It is a six-page bill.  I will put it in the Congressional Record today, and everyone will have a chance to read it tomorrow.  After everyone has had a chance to read it, I intend to ask unanimous consent to pass it. 

            This Congress -- both sides of the aisle -- is dedicated to transparency.  This administration has described itself as the most transparent administration in American history.  So why should we not unanimously pass legislation to ask for the most basic information about what is happening on the Obamacare exchanges?

            Health insurance companies say that in order to guarantee that everyone has a chance to sign up for insurance before January 1, which is when the law says they must, the application has to be in by December 15.  That is not very far away. 

            The administration has been talking about giving a grace period of a few weeks before the IRS will fine them for not having bought insurance, as Obamacare says most Americans must buy health insurance.  Still, if the Web site is not fixed, millions of Americans will be required to sign up for health insurance on a Web site that does not work.  As a consequence of not being able to sign up for health care, they will be fined by the Internal Revenue Service. 

            There is a much bigger problem than the fine, and that is millions of Americans may be without any health insurance at all after January 1 because their insurance is being canceled because of Obamacare.  Remember when President Obama said:  If you like your insurance, you can keep it?  Well, like a lot of things that have been said about Obamacare, that is turning out not to be the case.  Our staff has counted the announcements by health insurance companies that are ceasing to offer policies on January 1 because they don't qualify under the Obamacare law.  For example, in Tennessee, the state provides 16,000 Tennesseans who have trouble getting insurance with a plan called CoverTN.  Because it doesn't meet the exact requirements of Obamacare, the state is having to cancel that insurance on January 1, and those 16,000 Tennesseans won't have health insurance. 

            Other Americans -- for example, Tennesseans I have talked to -- have what we call catastrophic insurance.  They have insurance that provides for a catastrophe. That kind of insurance is often not available under Obamacare.  It is not allowed by Obamacare for most people.  An insurance company that offers these policies will not be offering them after January 1, and as a result, millions of Americans will not be able to buy the insurance they now have. 

            If individuals can't or won't sign up, that will mean that after January 1, many of the sickest people will go into the exchanges.  The result will be that the price of insurance -- for everyone who has insurance -- will go through the roof.  We are already seeing that in the insurance markets today. 

            The bottom line:  If the Web site is not fixed, millions of Americans will not only be fined by the IRS for not buying insurance on a Web site that doesn't work, more importantly, they will be without health care insurance on January 1, insurance that many of them have today.

            The president has said over the last few days that the Web site will be ready by November 30.  You are supposed to have your application in by December 15 and have the insurance bought by January 1, which only gives two weeks for millions of Americans to make their way through this maze.  We tried to obtain this simple information that I have asked for, yet repeatedly, the requests which I have directed to Secretary Sebelius have come back with no answer at all -- no answers, nothing. 

            Outside analysts tell us that only one-half of 1 percent of the people who logged on to the Obamacare Web site in the first week were able to enroll, but we really don't know.  

            Two weeks ago I sent a letter with House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa to Secretary Sebelius, asking for the information she and the president are not giving us such as how many people have enrolled successfully in the exchanges, what the technical problems are, how much it already costs, and how much it will cost to address these problems.  The deadline for a response to our request has passed.  Chairman Issa has said -- and I joined him in the letter -- that he may consider a subpoena to get that information.  The American people deserve an answer to these questions.

            Often when the debate comes up, someone will say, “Well, the Republicans don't have any proposals of their own.”  I have often made those proposals.  I remember on this floor of the Senate many times proposing steps we should take to change our health care system so more people could afford insurance.  We went back and counted the number of times when, during the health care debate, various Republicans talked about our step-by-step proposals for what we should do about health care, and there were 173 mentions of our step-by-step proposals. 

            The basic problem with what happened with the new health care law was that we -- the Democratic Congress did, I didn't; I didn't vote for it -- expanded a health care delivery system that already costs too much.  That was the wrong thing to do.  That was an historic mistake.  What we should have done is to make changes, step by step, in the health care delivery system that would reduce the cost of health care for the largest number of Americans so more people could have afforded it.  Those were the steps we should have taken.  We can still do that.  Our health care delivery system is nearly 20 percent of our economy. 

            Obamacare is not our health care delivery system.  Rather, Obamacare includes some additions to our health care delivery system.  Obamacare is an expansion of a health care delivery system that already costs too much.  The law is making some changes such as the ones I described earlier in my remarks.  Those changes have been described as a train wreck, but we can turn the train around and head it in another direction -- a direction of more competition, more choices, and lower costs for Americans buying health insurance.

            How can we do that?  That is a subject for a long discussion, but here are a few of the ideas:  Make Medicare solvent.  The trustees have said that in 10 years there won't be enough money to pay hospital bills.  We have a duty to make Medicare solvent.

            Reform Medicare Advantage to increase more choices and put it on a more level playing field with traditional Medicare.  That will provide seniors more options and it should save some money.

            Make Medicaid more flexible.  I was governor.  I said on the floor that every senator who voted for Obamacare ought to be sentenced to go home and serve as governor and try to implement the law.  During my time as governor, Medicaid was 8 percent of the state budget.  I see it has grown to 26 percent today in Tennessee, soaking up money that otherwise would go for higher education or for other needed parts of state government.

            We should encourage workplace wellness.  We had a lot of debate about that during the Obamacare debate and we have ended up with a regulation that is too restrictive.  We can change that.

            We can allow small businesses to pool their resources and offer a larger number of plans to a larger number of Americans at prices they can afford. We can allow Americans to purchase insurance across state lines.  That would reduce the cost of health care, which should be our major goal.

            We could expand health care savings accounts. There is bipartisan legislation before the Senate that would define full-time employment for purposes of the health care law -- this one or any one in the future -- as 40 hours instead of 30 hours.  That would be a great help to American business and an even bigger help to the employees who are being forced to go from 40 hours to 30 hours -- employees who most need that income, and who, by going to 30 hours, will have to go to a second part-time job, and in many cases, in doing so, lose whatever health care benefits that might be available to them.  I don't know where the 30 hours came from.  That sounds as though it was made in France.  A made-in-America part-time job ought to be up to 40 hours.

            Those are just a few of the steps we could take to turn the train around and avoid the wreck and move us in the right direction.  We will be making those arguments over time. But for now, we need information about what is happening on the Obamacare exchanges.

            I intend to ask unanimous consent tomorrow to pass a simple, six-page bill.  It is legislation which requires the administration to give us weekly reports about how many have tried to enroll, how many have succeeded, what ZIP Code they live in, and what level of insurance they have purchased.  Congress needs to know that, if millions of Americans are going to lose insurance on January 1, before they have a way to buy it through a Web site that doesn't work.  States need to know it because, as time goes on, these decisions are going to have an effect on the Medicaid programs that states are a partner in and are operating.  Americans need to know it because, in many cases -- we have counted at least 1.5 million cases and we expect millions more policies that were available to Americans when the law passed will not be available after January 1.  So these Americans -- and this includes people working in the Congress and people who are in the Congress -- these Americans are going to have to make decisions before January 1 about what insurance they will have, because the insurance they now have isn't going to be available under the new health care law.

            This is a six-page bill, and a pretty simple idea.  If RCA knew how many records Elvis was selling every day, if Ford knew before the Internet age how many cars Ford was selling every day, if McDonald's before the Internet age knew how many hamburgers it was selling every day, surely the Obama administration can tell us every week how many are enrolling on Obamacare's Web site, how many are successfully getting their insurance, where they live, and what kind of insurance they buy.  The stakes are much higher than Elvis's records, than Ford's cars, and than McDonald's hamburgers.  These are the stakes of health insurance that involve the lives of millions of Americans, and I hope my colleagues will join me tomorrow when I ask unanimous consent to approve legislation that will require these weekly reports. 

 

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