Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: Health Insurance Market Stabilization, Part 3

Posted on March 23, 2018

Health Insurance Market Stabilization Floor Speech, Part 3

March 22, 2018


Mr. President, I want to thank the senator from Maine for her lucid and heartfelt description of what's before us. She has been an exceptional leader. And she continues to be. She looks for ways to get results.

She sees people, the plumber I talked about making $60,000, the stylist, the farmer.

The person who is working and paying all of his or her insurance with no subsidy help and who sees the real prospect coming that when the rates are announced October 1, they may not be able to afford any insurance.

And they can see that we have a solution for that. This isn't a Republican solution. Or a Democratic solution. This is a solution that began to be developed almost the day Republicans failed to repeal and replace Obamacare. I walked across the aisle to see if we can do what the Democrats were asking. Let's fix what we have temporarily so nobody is hurt. And as we've explained this afternoon, we did that.

We have a proposal. That's the original Alexander-Murray proposal developed in four hearings in which more than half the Senate participated -- which at one point the Democratic Leader said every single Democrat would vote for. That takes an existing part of the Affordable Care Act and makes it work. That's the innovation waiver. Gives states more flexibility to create more choices and more lower-cost choices without changing the essential health benefits, without changing the guarantee for a pre-existing condition. It's really a modest change but it's a significant change. Then three years of cost-sharing subsidies.

Remember, the president said he did not want to pay those but he supports this. And then three years of reinsurance so we can help the sickest people who are in the individual market, take them out, pay their needs and reduce the rates for everybody else. These are the best Republican and Democrat ideas that have been put together in a package and as Senator Collins has said, virtually everyone who's looked at this starting with the Oliver Wyman health consultants who say it reduces rates up to 40 percent, the Congressional Budget Office says 20 percent.

Mr. President, that's thousands of dollars. If you're paying $20,000 for your insurance, if we do nothing, you might be paying $24,000. If we do this, you might be paying $16,000. That's a lot of money. In we do this you might be paying $12,000. That's thousands of dollars less.

That's a big tax cut for you and it's a big tax increase. And why are we not doing this? Let's not kid ourselves. There's a lot of scrambling and embarrassment -- running around on the other side of the aisle to come up with an excuse for this but let's be honest about it.

The Democrats are blocking this for one reason. They have convinced themselves that they do not want to apply to the health insurance rate reduction in the Omnibus bill the same law that applies to more than a hundred other programs in this omnibus bill. So every single Democrat over here who says I can't vote for a 40 percent rate reduction for you, Mr. Plumber or Miss Hairstylist or the farmer.

I can't do that because I can't put the Hyde amendment on it but I am going to vote to put the Hyde amendment on the National Institutes of Health.

I am going to vote to put the Hyde amendment on Community Health Centers.

I'm going to vote today to put it on Federal Employee Health Benefits and family planning grants under Title 10, and a hundred other programs that Democrats are going to vote to put the Hyde language on.

Yet they say we can't put the same language on a 40 percent health insurance reduction that is composed of three sections of bipartisan legislation that the Democratic Leader has said, at least on two-thirds of it, that every single Democrat support it. What is that? What is that? I mean, this should not be a partisan issue. And I’m not surprised there's scrambling and embarrassment on the other side of the aisle. I don't know how they're going to explain this to the American people. I know a lot of people in Tennessee are desperately hoping we succeed. I hear it every time I go home.

Mr. President, the senator from Washington knows the deep respect I have for her and we have worked together on some important legislation in our committee that has differences of opinion including the 21st century cures legislation, fixing no child left behind. But I have to say with all respect, that the last seven months of working with the senator and democrats on trying to fix the affordable care act, as they asked us, to do has been the most frustrating and disappointing time in my 16 years in the senate.

For example, she made three points. One is that democrats were unhappy that we reduced taxes and repealed the individual mandate. We know they're unhappy about that and we know that it raised individual rates somewhat, maybe as much as 10%. Okay, that was last year. So what are we supposed to do? Not work to reduce rates?

So we continued to work to reduce rates, and according to the Oliver Wyman experts, the proposal Senator Collins and I put on the floor, which is basically a combination of bipartisan proposals, would reduce rates by up to 40% - taking into account what we did in the tax bill. The congressional budget office, said up to 20%. So that's the first point.

Our proposal -- I mean I understand the democrats don't like to cut taxes. And they don't like to get rid of the individual mandate which was a tax on lot of poor people. But you have to get over that at some point and say, “Okay, if you think it raised rates, let's cut rates,” and we have a proposal to cut rates on plumbers and songwriters who pay for their own insurance by 40%. So that's not a very good excuse to block this rate decrease.

Number two, the distinguished senator from Washington said that the Collins-Alexander proposal interferes with preexisting conditions. It does not. Only someone who has not read the bill carefully could think that. 

We deliberately made sure the proposal we're presenting does not disturb the health benefits, which most of us would like to do -- most of them would not, so it doesn't. It does not change the preexisting condition requirements. It does not codify the proposals that the president made on consumer notifications on short-term insurance, at the suggestion of democrats who were afraid the president might be able to do something. So what we were trying to do is limit what he could do and say the states have the responsibility, and to make sure the consumers knew what they were buying. After all, the short-term plans which democrats don't like, can only be done if states choose to do them. They were afraid the president might do them, so we made sure he couldn't. So that's not an issue and then the third thing, in terms of the Hyde amendment.

Now the Hyde amendment is a very simple amendment. And usually when you oppose something, you stand up and say, “Look, this is the reason I’m opposing it. You may disagree with me or you may not, but this is my reason.” This is the only reason the democrats are blocking this 40% rate reduction. They said so publicly and privately. That’s it. That’s the only reason. They don't like applying the Hyde law to health insurance in this bill. And if they don't, fine. That’s their prerogative. I respect that. I don't question their motive. I don't question their right to do it. I would just like for them to stand up and say that's what they're doing.

And then they can explain to the American people what sense that makes. Because we've been working for seven months to develop this proposal that includes two parts, which are fundamentally the Alexander-Murray proposal that Senator Schumer said every single democrat would vote for. And the other part, is three years of reinsurance at $10 billion a year. That’s it. Those are bipartisan ideas. And the only issue is shall we also apply Hyde to it.

What we have planned to do for the last several months is put it in this bill that we're voting on today, the omnibus bill, to which the Hyde language has applied since 1976. What that means is the Hyde language is a compromise. It says you may not use federal funds for elective abortion, but it makes clear that states, individuals, churches, nonprofits, they may pay for elective abortion. That’s the compromise.

So, Mr. President, we counted them up. The Hyde language applies to more than 100 federal programs that democrats will be voting on today. So democrats will be voting on today applying the Hyde language to the National Institutes of Health. But Senator Murray is saying they can't apply it to a 40% health insurance rate reduction.

They’ll be voting to apply the Hyde language to community health centers, but she's saying no, we can't apply it to a 40% health insurance rate reduction. They’re going to be voting to apply it to federal employee health benefits program. That’s all of us who get insurance, all the federal employees. But we can't apply it to a health insurance rate reduction. We’re going to apply it to federal family planning grants under title 10. But for some reason, we can't apply the same law to a health insurance rate reduction. I could go down that list. I did earlier. I won't the whole thing, but it's the VA, global health programs, Ryan White, School based health centers. Democrats have voted for Hyde protection hundreds of times.

What democrats are arguing is that when they had 60 senators here and President Obama and a speaker of the house named Pelosi, they passed the affordable care act and they watered down Hyde for purpose of the affordable care act. They want that language. No republicans ever voted for that language in the senate. Democrats have voted hundreds of times for Hyde.

So how can we continue -- how can we expect to make any progress in fixing the affordable care act if democrats won't apply the Hyde language to any funding under it? I don't see any prospect for it. So I don't like the insinuation that I’ve walked away from anything. With most of the republicans who are usually willing to work with democrats, I spent hundreds of hours.

I walked over to the senator on the night we failed on repeal and replace and said let's do something. We had long discussions. We had hearings to which half the senate came. Everybody was just cheering. It was like going to summer camp. Why don't we do more of this? So we did it and we came up with something that the democratic leader said everybody could vote for over there.

Then they got mad about the tax cut. Okay, you can be mad, but not forever maybe. So we've come up with a cure for that. We got a 40% rate reduction despite what we did in the tax bill. All we want to do is to apply Hyde to this health program the same health program that every democrat who votes for this bill will be applying to every other health program today. So if they won't do that, how can they stand up and say they expect to make progress on fixing the affordable care act? I don't know any way to do it. I’m as willing as anybody to try to work things out here, but I’m no magician.

And I greatly respect the senator from Washington and enjoy working with her, but on this issue, I think we've reached an impasse.

They have yet to give us any language at all that applies to Hyde language. All their suggestions are saying, “We want to do what we did when we had 60 senators, a president of the United States, and Nancy Pelosi as speaker.” Well, they may want to but that's the one time that ever happened, and here we are today, no one objecting on the democratic side. Should I offer an amendment to take the Hyde language out applying to the national institutes of health? Why don't they offer to take it out of family planning grants under title 10? That should be just as offensive as applying the Hyde language to health insurance.

I don't understand this, Mr. President. And they're scrambling around all day. Staff has been putting out memos. Making up things. They’re misleading, misreading. They’re making excuses. There’s only one reason. They’re blocking a 40% health insurance rate decrease for the plumber who's making $60,000, paying $20,000 for his insurance. We could cut that $20,000 insurance to $12,000 over the next three years. That person is hurting, and we're, and democrats are blocking that. They’ll say we'll apply Hyde to everything else, but not to the rate decrease for that plumber. I don't understand it, and I don't see any way to make any progress on it as long as they take that position.