Mr. President, it is my pleasure and honor this evening to be here to strongly support this motion, this historic motion to proceed to a historic debate about whether we, as America, the greatest country in the world, are going to make sure all Americans have access to affordable health care insurance.
This is something that has been debated for 100 years. Now we have the opportunity, with the House having passed their version, to move forward to this debate where we will have lots of opportunity to offer amendments and to debate honest differences in policy. But in the end, I believe confidently that we will come together to move forward to pass legislation that will save lives, that will save money for the American people, that will protect Medicare, and that will stop insurance abuses happening for families every single day.
I have come to the floor so many times to talk about health insurance reform, as has the distinguished Presiding Officer from Rhode Island. I wish to take just a moment to say thank you to a few people because, as the Presiding Officer knows, we would literally not have this opportunity today if it were not for Senator Harry Reid, our distinguished majority leader. He is a quiet, smart, determined, focused leader who has listened to everyone, who has looked at the work products from the Finance Committee and the HELP Committee and brought together a combined bill that is the best of both. He is going to give us the opportunity to continue to debate and improve it on the floor before final passage. So I thank Senator Reid. I know he is passionate about his State of Nevada, and that is his No. 1 love after family, but I think No. 2 is the Senate and the ability to lead and get things done, and I thank him.
I thank Senator Baucus for his incredible leadership on the Finance Committee; Senator Dodd for his leadership and stewardship in bringing the HELP Committee through with their legislation; Senator Harkin, Senator Wyden, and Senator Bennett, who is on the floor. We are not agreeing on the movement forward on this bill, but there have been 2 years of working on health care that I appreciate, and their efforts together to work on health care.
I thank Senator Snowe. I don't know if she is going to be with us this evening, but her courageous vote on the Finance Committee is something we desperately appreciate. I know she is going to continue to provide input, and I am hopeful she will be with us on the final vote because her input and her knowledge have been extremely important in this process.
I also thank the memory of a very important Senator named Ted Kennedy, who I know is here in spirit, for 40 years of dedication to this cause.
Finally, I thank President Obama. If not for his vision, we would not be here today. For 8 years under a former President, we did not have the opportunity to get here to this place. We did not have the opportunity to be able to end insurance abuses and truly protect Medicare for the future, to put forward health care reform, to save lives, and to save money. I also thank President Obama for understanding that health care is also about jobs and that we have too many people in this country today who are losing their job, and with that they are losing their health insurance. So it is impossible to talk about health care reform without also talking about jobs because for most families they are connected and one and the same.
I have spoken on the floor so many times on health care cost and access. Frankly, health care is something that brought me to public service 30 years ago; when I was 5, I just want to say that for the record. I led an effort in our community to keep a nursing home open in Okemos, MI, and ever since then have been fighting to get to this debate, to get to this point in terms of affordable health insurance for all Americans.
So tonight, after this vote, we start the real debate. This bill provides a framework for every American to find affordable insurance. Is it everything I would do if I was writing it by myself? Of course not. Every Member can say the same thing. But the Democratic process is coming together with the best ideas and negotiating and doing the best we can to be able to solve as much as we can in the best way possible. I am going to continue to work to make health care truly affordable and will be sponsoring and cosponsoring amendments as we move forward to improve on what I believe is a very good bill. I am confident that at the end, again, we will pass legislation that saves lives, that saves money, that protects Medicare, and that stops insurance abuses.
When we first started this effort, I set up the Health Care People's Lobby on my Web site so that people could share their stories, how they felt about what we should be doing. Should we move forward and act? What should happen? What were their experiences with their health insurance and the companies that cover them now? I have heard so many stories. I wish to thank everyone--thousands of people--who has shared their story. I want to put a face on this debate and vote tonight by sharing just a couple with you.
When we say saving lives, this is not just a slogan. We are talking about saving lives. Forty-five thousand people have the ultimate rationing every year because they can't find affordable insurance. As a consequence, they lose their lives--45,000 people in the greatest country in the world. We can do better than that, and that is what this bill is about.
I wish to share just one story of a young man, Joe, from Okemos, MI. He is a recent graduate of dental school. He worked very hard, was very bright. He was just between jobs after completing his residency, and we know how long and hard that is, to get to that point. He suddenly fell ill. This was only a few months ago. He called his mom. She urged him to go to the doctor, but because Joe didn't have insurance, he was worried about going to the doctor, so he didn't. He continued to feel worse. His family finally got him to agree to go to the hospital, but by then it was too late. Joe died at age 27 of an aneurism--27 years old--because in America, he didn't have insurance and was afraid he couldn't afford it if he went to a doctor.
This is about saving lives. This is about saving money for businesses that are trying to keep the doors open, that may provide insurance now but are at a point where either the jobs go or they have to stop providing insurance. So people come in, and the owner says: I want to keep you working, but we are not going to be able to have health care for you anymore.
This is about the fact that our country is spending twice as much as any other country on health care and yet sometimes having outcomes that are far worse than we would like to see as it relates to other countries. We are 29th in the world in the number of babies who make it through the first year of life. Of all of the insurance companies a woman can choose from if she goes into the private individual insurance market--59 percent don't provide maternity care, basic care, prenatal care, care for mom and baby during the first year. So that is going to change because of the values we bring to this.
We are going to protect Medicare. Folks don't have to believe us. There is a lot of debate about what is happening in Medicare. I am very proud to say we have received a very strong letter from the AARP supporting a ``yes'' vote this evening to move forward on this debate, and that is critically important for us.
Let me share from the Web site of AARP what they say--the champions for seniors in this country; what they say, not what we say--about what is being done in health care reform.
On their Web site:
Myth: Health care reform will hurt Medicare.
Fact: None of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.
Fact: Health care reform will lower prescription drug costs for people in the Medicare Part D coverage gap or doughnut hole so they can better afford the drugs they need.
Fact: Rather than weaken Medicare, health care reform will strengthen the financial status of the Medicare program.
That is why AARP has written a letter urging us all to vote yes on the motion this evening we will be voting on, because we are strengthening Medicare for the future.
Then let me speak to the question of insurance reforms because the reality is that the majority of people have insurance. The majority of us so far have insurance through our employer, and we hope that as we bring down the costs and save money, that, in fact, we will be able to make sure people are going to be able to continue to have the coverage they are paying for today. So we are talking about insurance abuses and stopping those insurance abuses.
I wish to share a couple of stories from individuals who have found themselves in a very difficult situation. I realize my time has come to an end, so I will be brief, but I do want to share just a couple of stories in conclusion.
From the newspaper recently: Benjamin French, a young boy in Michigan, was born with his right arm missing below the elbow. In his 12 years, he has been fitted with seven prostheses. His most recent replacement will cost nearly $30,000, and his doctor says he will soon grow out of it. He is a 12-year-old who is growing up, so as he gets an artificial arm, it has to be replaced periodically to be able to grow with him. But according to his insurance company, the boy is ineligible for future coverage of prosthetic devices because he has already spent his lifetime maximum benefit. That is going to stop. We are going to eliminate those lifetime caps that get in the way of a 12-year-old being able to have the artificial arm he needs as he grows up so he can lead a normal life.
I wish to share one other story, and that is from Glen from Sterling Heights. He is 62 years old. He got laid off in December. It doesn't look as if he will be called back. He writes:
I am too young for Medicare. I have preexisting conditions, so nobody wants to insure me. If I get sick before I can get Medicare, my savings and everything else will be wiped out. This is not the way I pictured retirement was going to be. I raised four children, got them through school, and married; paid taxes and did what I thought was the right and moral thing to do. I didn't create this mess, but I am sure paying for it.
He did the right and moral thing, and that is what we are being asked to do on behalf of the American people.
Vote to move forward tonight. Vote for the debate. Doing nothing is not an option when we are losing jobs, people are losing lives; when we are losing the capacity of the country to be able to provide the health care for our families that we need to provide. It is our turn tonight to vote yes on proceeding to a debate that I believe, working together, will result in legislation on health care that will save lives, save money, protect Medicare, and stop insurance abuses.
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