Cantwell on Senate Floor: Price Will Take an Ax to Healthcare
Cantwell: “This is the first vote in the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) took the Senate floor urging her colleagues to vote ‘NO’ on the nomination of Rep. Tom Price to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. Cantwell highlighted Rep. Price’s long record attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicaid, and Medicare, all programs that benefit millions of Washingtonians every day.
“Mr. Price has put forth a budget in the House of Representatives that would cut Medicaid by one-third over ten years. His budget cuts $1 trillion from states over a ten-year period of time. So this philosophy has raised a lot of concern by my colleagues here and we have no other choice but to look at his record since he would not give us any answers on these programs. And his record clearly shows that he has actively and aggressively worked to cap Medicaid with a block grant program, trade away Medicare's guarantee with a voucher instead, defund Planned Parenthood and switch guaranteed benefits for a fixed tax credit that would steadily buy less and less,” said Senator Cantwell in her floor remarks.
“What he has said instead is that he wants to cap these programs, which is not an improvement to the system but almost a truncating of the cost. In my mind, it's like a surgeon going into surgery instead of taking a scalpel he's taking an ax.”
Earlier this month, Cantwell boycotted the Senate Finance Committee vote on Rep. Price’s nomination after he failed to explain whether he received an exclusive deal on stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biopharmaceutical firm. Senate Finance Committee Republicans broke committee rules to force through the nominations.
Senator Cantwell also took the floor in January to call on Republicans to end their destructive efforts to repeal the ACA. 750,000 Washingtonians would lose their health insurance if the ACA is repealed.
“In Washington, we expanded Medicaid and it covered 600,000 additional Washingtonians than were previously insured, and it helped us reduce our uninsured rate by 60% to less than 6%,” said Cantwell.
Repealing the Affordable Care Act would:
- Force 20 million newly insured Americans to lose their insurance.
- Increase prescription drug costs, premiums, and out-of-pocket costs for American families.
- Allow insurance companies to discriminate against people, including individuals with pre-existing conditions.
- Force older Americans to manage expensive health conditions while they wait to become eligible for Medicare.
- Deny women access to preventive health care, including birth control.
- Allow Americans with a mental health condition to be turned away from treatment and lose the newly gained care and support they count on.
- Deny young adults from staying on their parents’ insurance plan until they’re 26.
- Give billions in tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, while raising taxes on millions of middle-class Americans.
A full transcript of Senator Cantwell’s floor remarks is below or here:
Mr. President, I come to speak on the nomination of Congressman Price to lead up the Health and Human Services Department, but I have to respond to my colleague from Texas on his remarks. He wanted to know why members of our side of the aisle wanted to have information about nominees or why it might take so long. This is a record number of billionaires in this cabinet, and there is nothing wrong with people making money, but when you have conflict of interest, clearly people on this side of the aisle feel like we should do our job and find out about those conflicts of interest. And even in record time, these nominees have moved through this body, coming to votes in committee without us even having all the information that we wanted to have on their conflict of interest. For one nominee, the Commerce Secretary, we were negotiating even the day of the vote to clarify whether he was going to recuse himself if any of his transport vessels ever entered U.S. waters and would have a conflict on Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
So the notion that somehow we have been dragging our feet on a cabinet when a billionaire cabinet has been nominated by this president, who seems to want to tweet against commerce, the conflicts are here and we want them cleared up. As to Mr. Price, there are issues here that even the committee was not given the chance for a second hearing to get information about his conflicts of interest. So my colleague, who thinks for a party that railroaded Zoe Baird because of a housekeeping issue and yet there are nominees that we have moved forward on who have the same issue, now to say to us that we don't have the right to find out what these conflicts of interest are, I would say that you're wrong. And on this issue for Mr. Price, my issue is the issue of our health care delivery system, which was very hard to pin him down on as it relates to the Affordable Care Act.
My view is this vote is the first vote in the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Why? Because Mr. Price held nothing but his own views about this before our committee. When we asked repeatedly what would he endorse as it related to the reforms in the Affordable Care Act that are saving Americans money, that are clearly working for Americans, he failed to make a commitment. So my newspaper in Washington state, The Seattle Times, has said President-elect Donald Trump and his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services have doubled down on the Republicans' promise to scuttle the ACA now, that is not what I want. That is not what I am going to vote for in the nomination of Mr. Price. And if Mr. Price would have given us a little bit of an inkling of his desire to work across the aisle on what is working in the Affordable Care Act, what is working in Medicaid expansion, what is working to help save Americans dollars on their health care, it would be a different discussion here.
But Mr. Price has put forth a budget in the House of Representatives that would cut Medicaid by one-third over ten years. His budget cuts $1 trillion from states over a ten-year period of time. So this philosophy has raised a lot of concern by my colleagues here and we have no other choice but to look at his record since he would not give us any answers on these programs. And his record clearly shows that he has actively and aggressively worked to cap Medicaid with a block grant program, trade away Medicare's guarantee with a voucher instead, defund Planned Parenthood and switch guaranteed benefits for a fixed tax credit that would steadily buy less and less and less and become more of a standard of actually giving Americans less in their health care. Why is this so important? The reality is that 7% of Americans get their health insurance through this mechanism, and that while people talk about the exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid, which so many states took advantage of, are critical programs. Nationally, nearly half of pregnant women depend on Medicaid for prenatal and post-natal care to ensure healthy pregnancies. Medicaid covers 64% of nursing home residents and is the largest payer for the long-term care program. And going into nursing homes in the United States, many Americans, because they now can't afford to save for retirement, Medicaid is critically important. In hospitals across the nation, one in two births are financed by Medicaid, and Medicaid insurance actually costs less than the private insurance. So it is a very efficient way to cover a population.
I know a lot of my colleagues are going to come out here and talk about Medicare, and I am sure seniors in America will be very anxious about Mr. Price's statements on Medicare, but I am speaking here now about a program that is keeping people off of uncompensated care, keeping them from flooding our hospitals and putting them on a system that is at least working for our nation to cover people who need to have an option. Now, I say option because why? Because Medicaid itself is an optional program. States do not have to participate, but guess what? Every state in this country does participate. In fact, in Washington State, we know that Medicaid reduces, as I said, infant mortality. It helps with long-term health care, and it is helping us make sure we are becoming more efficient in our delivery system.
So in Washington, we expanded Medicaid and it covered 600,000 more additional Washingtonians than were previously insured, and it helped us reduce our uninsured rate by 60% to less than 6%. That is 6% of Washingtonians are now not with a health insurance program. So why am I so much concerned about this? Because in the Affordable Care Act, things on reforms are working, and we would like a nominee who would at least address and agree that those things are working. For example, as I just mentioned, because the Medicaid population and long-term care costs, rising number of people living longer are going to drive a huge balloon into our Medicaid budget, we came up with an idea of saying you should rebalance from nursing home care to community-based care. Why? Because people would like to live in their homes longer, because we can deliver more affordable care that way, because it's better for the patient and it's better for our health care delivery system.
So, what did we do? We put incentives into the Affordable Care Act to give the patients a cheaper, more affordable way to stay in their homes and get long-term care. It's really amazing to me how many states in our union took up the opportunity to transfer this program -- Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Illinois, Maine, Ohio, Nevada, Massachusetts, Nebraska and Pennsylvania. All those states decided to use this part of the Affordable Care Act because they agreed in philosophy that taking this population and rebalancing would save dollars in Medicaid, give people better health care choices and save us money overall. In fact, the state of Georgia received $57 million from the affordable care act to do this and has been able to shift 10% of its long-term care costs from nursing home care to community-based care. So it is a winning strategy, and yet we could not get a commitment or an awareness by Mr. Price about this program, what it does, why it's so successful or the concept that having people get care in their homes would be appropriate for so many Americans over the very expensive nursing home care that so many states are burdened with and so much of our federal dollars are going to be burdened with in the future.
We also tried to discuss with him another incredible idea from the Affordable Care Act -- that is, the Basic Health Plan, an idea that customers should be able to buy in bulk. I call it the Costco plan because everybody knows when you buy in bulk, you're going to get a discount. But so much above the Medicaid rate Americans have not been able to do and exchanges didn't afford them the opportunity to do was to buy in bulk. So part of the Affordable Care Act said that you could buy in bulk as a state and give a benefit. So what's the outcome of that? Well, the state of New York is using the Basic Health Plan and has signed up more than a half a million people under that plan. Right now a family of four in New York making $37,000 a year, if they were buying just on the exchange might have to pay $1,500 in annual premiums. Because of the Basic Health Plan, they're paying between $250 and $300. That is a savings of over $1,000 for those individuals. That’s an important program. Why? Because those in the delivery system have a certainty that they are going to see those patients, just as Costco when they buy in bulk for so many Americans across the country, know that Americans are going to shop there and take advantage of the discount that they were able to negotiate, and it works for everyone. The producers know they'll have volume. The customer knows they get the -- knows they get the best price and more people are covered. So, the fact that New York has used the Basic Health Plan as well as Minnesota, has shown us that these kinds of expansions the Medicaid rate works successfully for us, are the types of things we wish Mr. Price would endorse. But again, he failed to endorse these kinds of things.
What he has said instead is that he wants to cap these programs, which is not an improvement to the system but almost a truncating of the cost by, in my mind, it's like a surgeon going into surgery instead of taking a scalpel he's taking an ax. And I can't afford to vote, given what the people of Washington State have done successfully in driving down health care costs, increasing better outcomes, I’m not willing to take a risk on somebody who won't take a risk and say that these programs are working successfully. So, Mr. President, I hope that our colleagues will listen to these concerns -- will listen to these concerns. This is the first vote in the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. It is the first opportunity we have to say either tell us what's working or tell us what you're for. But, Mr. Price, all we have is his record, and I hate to say his record by capping and desiring to cut Medicaid and Medicare is not the direction our country needs to go. I thank the President. I yield the floor.
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