Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: ObamaCare

Posted on September 7, 2016

The Americans I have talked with are tired of ObamaCare rhetoric. They are worried about the ObamaCare reality. And what is the reality today? The reality is that ObamaCare is unraveling at an alarming rate. There appears to be a very real danger that without structural changes there may be entire states with no insurer willing to sell plans on their ObamaCare exchanges in 2018.

            We are talking about 10.8 million Americans who buy health insurance for themselves or their families on the ObamaCare exchanges created in each state as a result of the law passed in 2010. What we are saying is there are whole states where these 10.8 million Americans may have no options to purchase health care with ObamaCare subsidies. This unraveling is happening sooner than anyone thought and will require us to act both in the short term and in the long term.

             If we don't take action in the short term, many Americans will have fewer options and no relief from skyrocketing premium costs. If we don't take action to address the longer term structural failure of ObamaCare, we could have a complete collapse of the individual insurance market. Again, what we mean is that you may be living in a state where you cannot buy health insurance if you rely on an ObamaCare subsidy.

            The reality of ObamaCare today is alarming even for those of us who have been critical of the law and its thousands of pages of regulations. Before ObamaCare even became law, Republicans warned President Obama and we warned Democrats in Congress that ObamaCare was bad news for Americans.

            In February of 2010, more than 6 years ago, I spoke for Republicans at a White House summit on health care and warned President Obama that premiums for millions of Americans with individual insurance would rise under his proposal. I was right about that. Republicans warned that ObamaCare would increase the cost of health care, that people would lose their choice of doctors, that policies would be canceled, that people would lose jobs, that taxes would go up, and that Medicare beneficiaries would be harmed. We were right about all of that. Today, an alarming number of health care insurance companies are leaving ObamaCare exchanges. Americans are being forced to pay much more in premiums for the same health plans next year. This might be what Republicans predicted, but it is happening even faster than we imagined, and no one is happy about being right.

            Unfortunately, I don't need to look any further than my home state of Tennessee to see how bad things have become. When Tennesseans woke up on August 24 and read the front page of our state's largest newspaper, they saw this headline: “Very Near Collapse.” The story wasn't about a bridge or about a foreign dictatorship. “Very Near Collapse” was our state insurance commissioner’s description of the ObamaCare exchange in Tennessee, which more than 230,000 Tennesseans—almost a quarter of a million Tennesseans—used to buy health plans last year.

            What does “Very Near Collapse” mean in the real world? This November, when Tennesseans are signing up for 2017 ObamaCare plans, there will be fewer plans to choose from, and they will be much more expensive. That is what it means. This picture will be the same for many Americans across the country.

            Next year, Tennesseans will be paying intolerable increases—on average, between 44 and 62 percent more for their ObamaCare plans than they paid last year. Even for a healthy 40-year-old, nonsmoking Tennessean with the lowest price silver plan on Tennessee’s exchange, premiums increased last year to $262 a month. Next year, it is $333 a month. And if you, the policyholder, don't pay all of it, then you, the taxpayer, will because a large portion of ObamaCare premiums are subsidized with tax dollars. Surely, it is not a valid excuse to say that just because taxpayers are paying most of the bill, that justifies having a failing insurance market where costs are so out of control that we may soon have a situation where no insurance company is willing to sell insurance on an ObamaCare exchange.

            Tennessee had to take extreme measures to allow these increases because insurance companies told the state: If you don't let us file for rate increases, we will have to leave. And if that happens, Tennesseans might have only one insurer to choose from. That is what is happening in states all over the country as ObamaCare plans and rates get locked in for next year.

             According to the consulting firm Avalere Health, Americans buying insurance in one-third of ObamaCare exchange regions next year may have only one exchange to choose from. People buying on ObamaCare exchanges will have only one insurer to choose from in the entire state in five states next year: Alabama, Alaska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The same Kaiser Family Foundation report found that a growing number of States that have multiple insurers have only one insurer selling policies in a majority of counties.

            Tennessee is one of those states. Last year, Tennesseans could choose ObamaCare plans between at least two insurers in all 95 counties in the State. For the 2017 plan year, next year, it is estimated that 60 percent of Tennessee's counties will have only one insurer offering ObamaCare plans--in other words, no choice.

   North Carolina is also experiencing a dramatic reduction in options under

ObamaCare. Next year, 90 percent of counties in North Carolina are estimated to have only one insurer offering ObamaCare plans, up from 23 percent of counties last year. A similar picture exists in West Virginia, in Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, and Florida.

            Just last week, the Concord Monitor, a newspaper in New Hampshire, published an article with this headline: “Maine health insurance cooperative leaves N.H. market, reeling from losses.”

            The story goes on to describe how the Maine-based Community Health Options insurance plan will no longer be operating in New Hampshire after experiencing over $10 million in losses in the ObamaCare exchange over just the first two quarters of this year alone. This move will leave 11,581 individuals in the Granite State looking for new health plans.

             Politico reports that one Arizona county is “poised to become an ObamaCare ghost town”—those are Politico's words—because no insurer can afford to sell health plans on the ObamaCare exchange. That leaves 9,700 people in Pinal, AZ, with no ObamaCare plan options in 2017.

            Millions of Americans need relief from ObamaCare. Here is the action that is needed: First, Americans need immediate relief from the cost of health insurance and the lack of options on the ObamaCare exchanges. We could do that by giving States more flexibility to give individuals and their families options to purchase lower cost private health insurance plans outside of ObamaCare, and we could do that now. I intend to offer legislation that would provide that relief. That is only to deal with the emergency of next year.

            Second, we need big, structural change in order to avoid a near collapse of our nation's health insurance market. If there is a Republican in the White House next year, we need to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with step-by-step reforms that transform the health care delivery system by putting patients in charge, giving them more choices, and reducing the cost of health care so that more people can afford it. But if there is a Democrat in the White House, broad systemic, structural changes will still be necessary.

            Republicans didn't create this problem, but we are prepared to solve it. Democrats want to spend more taxpayer dollars to prop up the exchanges. They want to expand the role of government in your private health care decisions.

             In an article last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, here is what President Obama wrote: “I think Congress should revisit a public plan to compete alongside private insurers in areas of the country where competition is limited.”

  Of course, the President's proposal means more money and more government, but Republicans know and Americans have seen over the last six years that more money and more government are not the solution; they are the problem. We saw the problem ahead of time. We warned about it. We criticized the poor regulations that made a bad law even worse. Now, we are ready to take action. We are ready to do something about this emergency—both for next year and for the longer term.