Thursday, October 15, 2009

I’m delighted to join my colleagues from Colorado and from Alaska to tackle some of the myths that are being presented about health care reform.   It’s startling to stand on the floor and hear increasingly shrill presentations from those who wish to defend the status quo broken system of health care in America.  And I wonder to myself, do they not hear what I hear from my constituents about the challenges that they encounter each and every day if they don’t have insurance – worried about getting sick.  Or, if they have insurance – worried about that losing that insurance– or worried about the problems and challenges faced with utilizing that insurance. 

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about one of the most prevalent myths that health care reform is only about expanding access to those who don’t have insurance.  Because here is the truth; health care reform is about improving health care for those who already have insurance.  Those with insurance in the United States of America live in a precarious state.  Their rates often go up by double-digit increases every year, so affordability is hanging by a thread.  Those who have insurance through their jobs can change jobs and lose that coverage.  They could get dropped from their insurance because they become sick or injured.  Or they could find that their insurance has lifetime or annual limits that block them from obtaining the medical care that they need if they do become injured or ill.

We want to make health care insurance more stable and secure for those who have it, and that’s what health care reform will do.  First, health care reform will make insurance portable.  If you lose your job, you often lose your coverage and that is a terrible double whammy for American families.  Health care reform will make sure that your coverage goes with you if you lose your job or if you choose to take on a new career. 

Second, health care reform will end dumping, the terrible practice of insurance companies canceling policies for citizens when those citizens become seriously ill.  That is just wrong.  What kind of health care system is it when you pay insurance premiums for 15 years and then your child or your spouse or perhaps yourself becomes seriously ill, and you get a letter from your insurance company saying they’re canceling your insurance?  That is not health insurance; that is a scam.  And health care reform will end that scam here in America.  Finally, health care reform will get rid of annual or lifetime limits that drive people into bankruptcy even when they have coverage. 

Here is an example from my home state of Oregon.  Alaya Wyndham-Price lives in Lake Oswego.  She had insurance through her previous job as an event planner and is currently on COBRA.   Six months ago, Alaya developed a tumor the size of a golf ball just below her brain and she has had numerous tests performed to determine the best course of treatment.  Her insurance caps treatment costs at $20,000 annually, and she’s already approached $30,000 of expenses with the diagnostic tests over the last few months.  Through COBRA, Alaya’s insurance will renew in January.  But the surgery to remove her tumor will cost about $50,000 or $30,000 over the amount that her insurance will pay in 2010.  So she’s trying to work as much as possible, doing freelance writing, taking on projects.  But, on many days is too ill to do much of anything.  She’s scheduled to see a doctor again soon to have an expensive M.R.I. test in November.  But every single medical visit she takes, she goes deeper into debt.  This is not right, but it is common. 

More than half of bankruptcies in America are due to medical bills.  And in more than half of those situations, where medical bills drive people into bankruptcy, the individuals had health insurance.  No American should be driven into bankruptcy because he or she becomes sick or injured.  Health care reform will end arbitrary annual and lifetime limits to make sure Americans get the care they need when they need it.  Not having to delay care to the next year in order to benefit from a new annual ceiling. 

In conclusion, the myth is that health care reform is simply about extending coverage.  The truth is this: reform will mean better, fairer, and more affordable coverage for the millions of Americans who already have insurance.