On the Senator Floor, Bennet Answers the Question: What's in it for You?

In Speech, Bennet Discusses How the Senate Health Reform Bill Will Help Middle Class Families and Reduce the Deficit

As debate continued on the Senate health care reform bill today, Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, delivered a speech discussing how The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will help hard-working families and reduce the federal deficit. Bennet noted the Congressional Budget Office's report showing that the reform bill will reduce the deficit by a total of $780 billion in the long term. Saying "business as usual cannot be an option," Bennet urged support of the health care bill - and tonight's vote to move forward on debate of the legislation.

Below is a transcript of the speech as delivered:

I would first like to thank the Senator from Vermont for his excellent remarks in support of, in what is, after all, just a vote to get us started on the debate on health care, a procedural vote to allow us to be able to amend and improve the bill in the coming weeks.

Madam President, virtually every single member of this body in the United States Senate is a member of the baby boom generation. As in my view, a generation of Americans, I was born in the last year of that generation, given more opportunity than any generation of people in the history of this planet because our grandparents and our parents were willing to make hard choices, understanding that part of our national creed, part of our legacy is assuring that we're expanding opportunity for those that come after us.

We are having this health care debate at a moment in our country's history beset by incredible economic difficulties. This is the worst recession since the Great Depression. But we now know that even during the period of economic growth before our economy fell into this terrible recession that working families were struggling. During the last period of economic growth, median family income in the United States actually declined.

As far as I know, it's the first period of recovery in the history of the United States when median family income actually went down, and that was at the same time that the cost of health insurance was soaring in my state by 97 percent. The cost of higher education in my state going up by 50 percent.

We're saying to working families you live in an economy with incredible weakness, where the growth is actually surging ahead of a mountain of debt, but you're not getting ahead.

Just this week, we learned that in the great State of California, they're increasing the tuition for their universities by 30 percent. The University of California, the California system, has been the envy of the world for decades, and now it's being put out of the reach of working families. So we have much to do here, much to do to make sure we honor the legacy of our parents and grandparents. We honor the legacy of the greatest generation, this generation, the baby boom generation to ensure that we leave behind us not diminished opportunity but more opportunity for our kids and our grandkids.

There's much we need to do to make sure we have a health care system that works not just for a few people, but for everyone. An education system that works not just for a few kids but for everyone. And that we have an economy here in the United States that values the contribution that everybody can make.

My sense in this health care debate is that the people of my state, and I know the people around the country, are deeply dissatisfied with business as usual. They hate the current system. They know it's not working for them and their families. They know they're not able to make the choices that they need to make to be able to have the kind of stability for their families so they can get ahead economically, but on the other hand they are deeply worried about our capacity to make it worse. It's hard to blame people when you hear the special interest rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C., or when you turn on your cable television set at night and watch what people have to say, you can understand why people are concerned that we have the capacity to make it worse.

That's why I'm so pleased about the piece of legislation that the majority leader has brought before us. We have never been closer to reforming our health care system, Madam President, so we can address runaway health care costs, enact insurance reform, construct stability and predictability in health care for families and small business. Senate legislation before us is that promising new way forward. Coloradoans as I said have not been shy at all about letting me know about their views of the current system or what their concerns are about what we might do. Like people across the country, they know the current system doesn't work for them, but they are worried, as I said a minute ago, that we're going to make it even worse. This bill represents a substantial improvement over business as usual.

First of all, the most important principle of this bill is that it's paid for. We already had about $5 trillion of debt when the last president became President, and we're now at $12 trillion. It's been an unbelievable spike since 2000 and today. We have put an enormous burden, and as the father of three young girls, I feel this very personally and very keenly, an enormous burden on our kids and our grandkids.

Our debt is now $12 trillion. Our entire gross domestic product, our entire economy is $14 trillion. Our deficit is $1.4 trillion - 12 percent of our gross domestic product. That is utterly unsustainable, and what we know is that the biggest driver of our median term deficit are our rising Medicare and Medicaid costs. The biggest driver of those are our rising health care costs.

This bill, unlike Medicare Part D - a very worthy program passed during the last administration - paid for. That drug program for seniors was not paid for. Instead of paying for it, instead of making hard choices, what we said to our kids and our grandkids was you pay the bill. By the way, that's what we've said about tax cuts, that's what we have said about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have got to put an end to this.

This bill at least starts to head us in the right direction. It doesn't fix our fiscal crisis, but it is an important step forward. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, for working families, the current system has been a complete disaster as their income has remained flat or gone down, their health care premiums have gone up by 97%, and even though there is a lot of conflict out there about what the way forward should be, about what specific policy choice here versus a specific policy choice there, I can tell you one thing everybody can agree on in my state is that their health care has not improved by 97% over the last ten years. They're paying more and they are getting less. Coverage is getting weaker as it gets more expensive.

Small businesses are getting crippled by the system that we have today. They pay 18% more than large businesses to cover their employees just because they're small. And sometimes people say to me, ‘well, Michael, don't you know that's because the pool of employees is smaller, it's harder to spread the risk,' and I say ‘I understand that, but as a businessperson, from a business perspective, that is ridiculous. The idea that a small business person trying to execute their businessman, trying to execute their vision and grow their business is going to spend 18% more for something and not get 18% more productivity out of it or not get 18% in this case better health care coverage out of it. In fact, the reverse is true - it's ridiculous.'

And by the way, one of the things that's really interesting to me about this debate over a public option is that people don't seem to understand what's actually happening today before our eyes - as the costs of insurance are going up every year, fewer and fewer people are able to get insurance through their employer. Fewer and fewer employers are able to offer insurance to their employees, which is heart breaking for many of our small business owners because these are family businesses that for years have provided health insurance to their employees. They view it as part of the pact with their employees to help them get ahead, but they can't do it so they are dropping them from the rolls.

And where are these folks ending up that are now uninsured? Well, two places. Medicaid, if they're poor enough, or in the emergency room getting covered with uncompensated care that we, the taxpayers, are paying for. We have a public option. It's just -- it's just the least intentional and most expensive public option you can imagine. So we need to understand when we're talking about the changes that we're talking about here, we need to understand what's really going on in the daily lives of people all across our country.

The figures that we have got from the Congressional Budget Office show that this bill will reduce the deficit not add to it, will cut our deficits over the first ten years by $130 billion, over the next ten years by $650 billion. That's $780 billion.

You know, one thing we know about those numbers is they're not going to turn out to be exactly accurate, but here's the good news. The CBO is unable to score the benefit of prevention. They are unable to score the benefit of wellness. They are unable to score a focus on primary care instead of emergency room care, and there's a good reason for that, because that comes down to execution. How well is the program implemented? And those of us that are proponents of reform carry a very heavy burden to make sure that the execution is good and that we carry this through, but the good news is if we do a good job, we'll save money.

I want to say a word about Medicare. There has been a lot of discussion from people that are opposed to reform that are saying we're cutting Medicare. They're saying we're hurting seniors, but what they won't tell you is the worst possible scenario is not taking action now on critical Medicare reform.

As I said earlier and I have said in many speeches, our Medicare program on its current path is headed for a fiscal crisis. Policy Experts on both sides of the aisle have said we need reform our medical delivery system. We need to stop basing payments on every procedure and every test. Instead we should look at successful models like our own Denver Health, the Rocky Mountain Health System and Mayo Health Clinic in Minnesota.

We know they have better quality and better outcomes not just for seniors but everyone. This bill builds on what works locally. That means protecting the Medicare benefits for every senior and for years to come. It improves Medicare solvency. We make sure doctors will not see a 20 percent cut in their payments. It makes the entire Medicare system more affordable and will save taxpayer dollars.

Critics say no to reform. They're content with a system that pays by the test. Test after test instead of outcomes and patient-centered care. That approach will assure that Medicare is bankrupt by 2017. We need to do better than that for seniors. We need to protect Medicare.

Included in this health care reform bill is a version of a bill I introduced based on great work being done in Colorado. It's called the Medicare Care Transition Act. We looked at the $17 billion Medicare was spending on hospital readmissions. Currently one out of every five patients leaves the hospital and returns within the same month. We looked at places in Denver, in Grand Junction, where the readmission rates are 2 percent compared to the national rate at 20 percent.

What we saw was that they coordinate care. And as people go from place to place, these health care systems track where they go with a system of electronic medical records, what medications they use, what doctors they see. They focus on patients when making decisions. So when we talk about these delivery systems being unnecessary, tell that to the 12 million Medicare seniors who got readmitted to the hospital within the very first month they were let out of the hospital. We owe so much more to these seniors, and we owe a lot more to the American people.

Health care reform must stop the rising costs that are bankrupting working families, small businesses and our economy. If you like your coverage, you should be able to keep it. We need to put it into denials based on preexisting conditions, give people more affordable options including a public option. One thing is clear, and that is business as usual cannot be an option. The debate is bigger than politically charged issues. We have to keep our eye on the ball and not get distracted by the same old tired special interest politics that have kept us from reforming our health care system since Harry Truman was president.

Health care reform should not be about changing our laws on abortion. I think the House went astray when it adopted new language with unintended consequences for women. The Senate bill already makes sure we do not use taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. That's why I oppose the house Stupak language. So I'd like to end this morning on what I'm for. I'm for insurance reform. I'm for making our small businesses more competitive by reining in skyrocketing health care costs, for reducing premiums for working families, for more consumer choice, including the ability to voluntarily choose a public option.

By the way, Madam President, one thing I've noticed is that as people start to understand that they're going to be required to have health insurance as part of this plan, what they're saying is - I want all the options. I want a private option, a public option, nonprofit option. I just want to be in a position to make the best decision for my family. We're for reform that squeezes wasteful our spending so we can reduce our deficits in the long term.

And throughout this entire debate my focus has been on the average Coloradoan, our working families and small businesses. There's plenty in the bill for you. The time for talking is over. We should pass this bill. But tonight what we should do is make sure that we allow the Senate to debate the bill, to improve the bill. There are things in this bill that I'd like to change. There are things that I want to make better in the coming weeks. But I believe that if we pass this reform, we will have taken a very important step forward to saying we are here to honor the legacy of our parents and our grandparents.

We are here to say as one generation to the next that we are going to carry that legacy forward and make sure that we are making the hard decisions to provide more opportunity for you, not less. This is only one step of that. I mentioned education earlier. I mentioned our economy earlier. My hope is that in this debate, what we can do is begin to learn how to set the special interests aside for the benefit of the American people.

If we can do that, there's not a doubt in my mind that we'll honor our grandparents' legacy.