Jackie Speier

Urgent Need for Health Care Reform - July 15, 2009

Jackie Speier
July 15, 2009— U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Well, thank you to the gentleman from Connecticut. I want to thank you for your leadership and for your comments because this issue can't wait. I think we know that better than most.

But tonight what I would like to do is talk to the 80 percent of Americans who have health insurance, who basically ask, Well, why should I care about health care reform? I have health insurance. And to the 80 percent of Americans who do have health insurance, I have a few things to tell them.

Right now, for all of us that have health insurance, we are in a position of paying for those that don't have health insurance. It's called cost shifting. So for the premiums that we pay, part of each premium is actually paying for the uninsured. It's called cost shifting. And it's estimated that every American family pays $1,100 per year for the uninsured.

So, for instance, you go into the ER with a broken ankle, you get health care. The uninsured person goes into the ER for that same broken ankle, they get health care because we have a Federal law that requires that all people get health care when they return to the emergency room. But we pay $2,000 for that broken ankle, not because it costs $2,000, but because the individual who came in with no health insurance didn't pay. And that's where the cost shifting takes place.

So with health care reform, it's going to be much like many States in the country have as it relates to auto insurance. There's a mandate for auto insurance, and now we're going to mandate that every American have health insurance. And for those who can pay, they will pay. And for those that can't pay, we will help them pay.

Now, the next question I want to answer is why is health care so expensive.

Currently, the United States pays twice as much as any other industrialized country in the world for health care; $6,700 for every man, woman, and child. Now, compare that to what's paid in Germany or Canada, where it's $3,000. Or take the country of Japan, where it's $2,500. And the cost of living in Japan is just as high as it is here in America.

Now, the conventional wisdom would suggest that, well, our health care is more expensive because our outcomes are better. You get better care if you pay more money. Well, that's simply not true. The U.S. ranks first in unnecessary deaths among the 19 industrialized nations.

Now, let me repeat that. The U.S. ranks first among--the most unnecessary deaths that take place as a result of a lack of health care. In fact, the number is pretty staggering. It's like 22,000 Americans will die this year for lack of access to health care.

We waste a lot of money on health care spending. Recent estimates are that one-third of the care provided in this country, to the tune of some $700 billion, doesn't improve anyone's health. Now, if a third of the care that's being provided isn't providing additional health care, then it's wasteful spending. And when they talk about $700 billion of wasteful spending, it's time for all of us to sit up and think, wait a minute. What's really going on here?

And 20 percent of the health insurance premium goes for overhead and profits. Now, when I tell you that in 1994 only 4 percent of the health care premium went for profits and overhead, you've got to scratch your head and ask, how did we go from 4 percent in 1994 in overhead and profits to 20 percent in 2009?

Next question that I want to answer is how does this health care reform make it safer for me.

I want to tell you a dirty little secret. It's a dirty little secret about health care that no one wants to talk about, and it's about medical errors, and we have known about it for decades. The Institute of Medicine put out a report that said there are 100,000 deaths in America every year because of medical errors; 100,000 deaths.

Now, I'm going to talk about a specific bacteria infection that people get typically in the hospital. It's called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Now we say MRSA for short. Now, the MRSA infection rate is growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, there's 100,000 cases of MRSA a year. Two-thirds of those people that get that infection get it in the hospital setting.

Now, of the 100,000 people that will get a MRSA infection, 19,000 of them will die because of that infection. Now, that's a stunning figure.

If there was a 747 that crashed in the United States every week, that's the equivalent of 19,000 deaths. And if there was a 747 that crashed every week in America, we wouldn't tolerate it. We'd call on the FAA. We'd call on the airlines. We would stop it. But we've done very little to stop the spread of MRSA in hospital settings.

Now, this health care reform bill takes an important step, not a full step. It doesn't go all the way, but it does now require that hospitals will have to report their hospital-acquired infections.

What we need to do, furthermore, is put the protocols in place so that we can stop these infections from occurring and we can stop the deaths as well.

Now, the last thing I want to talk about is something that not everyone is necessarily familiar with if you're in a group health setting, and it's called a preexisting condition. If you're in a group health setting, it doesn't matter if you have a preexisting condition. You are covered. But if you're in the individual market and have a preexisting condition, good luck.

And I'd like to show you these health care horror stories, preexisting conditions. These are the types of preexisting conditions that can prevent you from getting health insurance in this country. Depression, sprained ankle. How about a misdiagnosis for bipolar disorder?

This is an actual case. A young woman was given a bad diagnosis. Her doctor confirmed that she never should have been diagnosed; yet, when applying for individual insurance, she was denied due to her psychological history, even though it was a misdiagnosis.

Well, look down that list. Diabetes, gallstones, anxiety, stress. How about tested for multiple sclerosis? Not that you have multiple sclerosis, but that you were tested for it becomes a preexisting condition and you can be denied health insurance in the individual market.

Let's move down to bunions. How about too thin or too heavy? How about too healthy?

Believe it or not, this was a reason given to a gentleman for not giving him health care. In Florida, he sought insurance in the individual market because he was working for an architectural firm that didn't offer it. He'd been healthy all his life. He'd never been to the doctor. He did all the right things. He was a health nut and stayed in shape. And so when he went shopping and he was declined coverage, it was because there was a

"lack of current medical records." Now, he explained that he didn't have any medical records because he hadn't been to a doctor because he's been healthy. But for that reason, because he was too healthy, he was declined health insurance.

I had a story that just came into my office today. It's a family in my district, and they called because they were concerned. They have twin sons. One of their sons just had a dislocated shoulder from an athletic event. Not unusual. But because he had that dislocated shoulder, they had been told by their health care insurer that they will now exclude coverage for any shoulder injuries for both sons, even though the twin brother was not engaged in the athletic activity and didn't dislocate his shoulder.

So, health care reform makes preexisting conditions a thing of the past. All of this would be wiped away. All of these horror stories would be gone. Americans could breathe a sigh of relief that now, no matter what your ailment, and believe me, all of us have a preexisting condition of one sort or another; it just hasn't been tested because we've been in the group health market. But all of us will be able to access health care and health insurance through the health care reform proposal.

You know, much like you, I came to Congress to make this country a better place. With real health care reform, I believe we'll have an opportunity to do just that.

Thank you. I yield back.

Speech from http://www.govtrack.us/congress/record.xpd?id=111-h20090715-52&person=412259.