Menendez Opening Statement In Finance Committee Health Insurance Reform Markup

Menendez Opening Statement In Finance Committee Health Insurance Reform Markup

NJ Senator says real reform is vital; improvements must be made to Finance bill; Republicans shouldn't play politics

Washington - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said today in his health insurance reform markup opening statement that effective reform is crucial; that the Finance Chairman's Mark needs improvements; and that Republicans shouldn't use this issue to play politics.

Excerpts for Menendez's statement, as prepared for delivery:


"To those who say our current health care system is the best we can do, to those who believe that more of the same is what the American people deserve, I say that allowing a health insurance company's profit margin to come between a doctor and a patient is no way for a health care system to run. I say that leaving tens of millions of our fellow Americans to rely on an emergency room for their primary care is no way to treat our neighbor - and no way to control the budget deficit. There are issues with our health care system that should eat away at our national conscience every day."

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"The Chairman is well aware that my focus is not just on passing a bill called 'reform' but on enacting actual reform that ensures every American has access to quality and affordable health coverage. To move toward that goal, there are some changes to the Mark that I need to see."

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"I understand and respect that there are real policy differences in this debate; however, I am very concerned when members continue to create fear over so-called "death panels" when they never existed in this legislation and never will. Or when members continue to say that this bill is a "government take-over of health care" when it's actually a boon to the insurance industry and doesn't even include a public plan option. Or as I read in press reports just this morning [in Politico] that, quote, 'The NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee) already has its eyes on Democrats up in 2012 - and plans to bombard Democrats who sit on the Finance Committee with attacks on their votes on controversial amendments during the Committee deliberations beginning Tuesday.'"

Among the improvements to the bill for which Menendez is advocating are:

  • Affordability: reducing the maximum amount families receiving subsidies in the insurance exchange will have to pay out of their income for insurance premiums. In the original Chairman's Mark, the cap is set at 3% of income at the low end and 13% at the high end. Menendez has offered an amendment that sets the cap at 1% of income at the low end and 10% at the high end.
  • Excise tax: relieving the burden of the excise tax on high-valued health benefits, which has the potential to affect firefighters, police and teachers in a state like New Jersey
  • Public plan option: inclusion of a public plan option to increase accountability, choice and competition in the insurance exchange.
  • Mixed-status families: Ensuring that the economic status of mixed-status families is calculated accurately to ensure that American citizens and legal permanent residents receive the full tax credits they need to purchase affordable health coverage.

Full text of Menendez's statement, as prepared for delivery:

More than a half-century ago, Harry Truman said: "We should resolve now that the health of this nation is a national concern... that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the nation."

The time has come for us to act.

This markup is an important step in the process that can lead to reforms delayed decade after decade after decade.

To those who say our current health care system is the best we can do...

to those who believe that more of the same is what the American people deserve...

I say that allowing a health insurance company's profit margin to come between a doctor and a patient is no way for a health care system to run...

that leaving tens of millions of our fellow Americans to rely on an emergency room for their primary care is no way to treat our neighbors... and no way to control the budget deficit.

There are issues with our health care system that should eat away at our national conscience every day.

Middle class families in this country who HAVE health insurance are being bankrupt by health care costs anyway. When they need insurance coverage the most, it simply isn't there for them.

For the 17 years I have been in Congress, thousands of New Jerseyans have approached me on the street, visited my office or called on the phone -- sometimes in tears -- to tell me their health insurance stories... some of the most heartbreaking stories you will ever hear.

And millions of other families who may not be facing dire circumstances, are nevertheless worried that it's costing them more and more each year to pay for their insurance... that they've been denied coverage for a test or a visit to the doctor's office.

These stories - stories that most every family has - this is the reason we need to finally follow through with health insurance reform.

I applaud the Chairman's leadership in getting us to where we are today and for listening to some of our concerns and trying to make improvements.

The Chairman is well aware that my focus is not just on passing a bill called "reform" but on enacting actual reform that ensures every American has access to quality and affordable health coverage. To move toward that goal, there are some changes to the Mark that I need to see.

We have to make the insurance exchange more affordable for average working families regardless of where you live - a big issue in a high-cost state like New Jersey.

That means reducing the amount families spend on health care as a proportion of their budget., helping families who sit around the kitchen table trying to stretch their paycheck to cover the mortgage, groceries, and health care costs each month.

We have to ensure that a tax on high-value insurance plans does not end up hitting middle class and working families in states like New Jersey, many of whom are serving the public as teachers, firefighters, and police officers.

And we should not let the hysteria over immigrants block American citizens' access to the health care they deserve and are entitled to.

We need to strengthen consumer protections as much as possible I have offered a number of amendments, many of which hopefully will be accepted by the Chairman, which provide protections and support to families in getting the care they need. I have also offered amendment to protect federally qualified health centers, maternity coverage for young women and better health care for our nations' children, including those with autism.

We need to ensure a level playing field for every consumer and I am proud to be a cosponsor of a strong public option.

But to truly level the playing field we eventually need a discussion of a public plan as part of the health insurance exchange.

To my less progressive friends, we need to bring transparency and accountability in the market, and to ensure real, honest, fair competition among qualified insurers.

We need to find a way to create a new framework to throw out the old business model that says insurers should do all they can to avoid risk rather than provide the best value at the best price to the most people.

I understand and respect that there are real policy differences in this debate; however, I am very concerned when members continue to create fear over so-called "death panels" when they never existed in this legislation and never will. Or when members continue to say that this bill is a "government take-over of health care" when it's actually a boon to the insurance industry and doesn't even include a public plan option.

Or as I read in press reports just this morning that, quote, "The NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee) already has its eyes on Democrats up in 2012 - and plans to bombard Democrats who sit on the Finance Committee with attacks on their votes on controversial amendments during the Committee deliberations beginning Tuesday. 'If senators like bow to pressure from the White House and liberal special interest groups and think no one is watching, then we welcome that false sense of security,' said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh. 'But the NRSC intends to actively inform their constituents if they put the political interests of their party's leadership ahead of the interests of the taxpayers in their states.'"

These examples lead me to wonder if this really is an ideological divide or simply political opportunism.

We've also heard opponents of reform, and of the president, call this "Obama's Waterloo" or his defeat. They think that defeat of health care reform will lead to electoral victory. What those voices fail to realize is that failing on health care reform is not about the defeat of President Obama or the Senate, it's about failing the American people.

All of us have a stake in the result. All of us want to ensure that every American family has access to the best health care system possible... All of us who believe as Harry Truman did that "the health of the nation is a national concern that deserves the help of all the nation."

Let this be the time and ours the generation that finally realizes the dream held by generations of leaders - from Harry Truman to Ted Kennedy. Let us make affordable health care for every American a national priority.

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