In Senate Speech, Bennet Pushes for Health Care Reform That Is Fiscally Responsible
Outlines How Rising Health Care Costs Continue To Burden Colorado's Families & Small Businesses
Bennet Brings Stories of Coloradans from Pueblo, Golden, and Blanca to Washington - Spotlights Their Push for Health Care Reform
Washington, DC - Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, today urged for health care reform that would be achieved in a fiscally responsible way. In a speech before the Senate this morning, Bennet said that Coloradans want health care reform but they want it done without "breaking the bank."
Bennet said Coloradans want to preserve choice for those who like their insurance and want to keep it, end double-digit premium increases on the middle class and small businesses, and increase access to affordable, quality health care coverage. But, Bennet said, Coloradans "want us to find a way to pay for these reforms now, and not just pass on the cost to the next generation in the form of increased deficits and debt."
Laying out the cost of inaction, Bennet highlighted the health care challenges facing Colorado families and small businesses across the state, and discussed the threat skyrocketing costs pose to the long-term health and sustainability of the American economy.
The video and full text of Bennet's remarks, as prepared for delivery, are included below:
I rise today to speak about the urgent need for health care reform. And I want to thank both the Finance and HELP Committees for the enormous amount of effort that they are both putting into this monumental task.
When it comes to health care, if you talk with Coloradans they will point you in the right direction. They want us to end double-digit premium increases on the middle class and small businesses. They want us to leave alone the parts of the system that aren't broken. They agree that all Americans should have access to affordable and secure health care coverage.
But Madame President, they are skeptical that Washington can get this done without breaking the bank. They want us to find a way to pay for these reforms now, and not just pass on the cost to the next generation in the form of increased deficits and debt.
That's a tall order, but it's the right one, and simple common sense.
We will be tempted throughout this process to settle for half-fixes and easier political victories that help a few people, but don't deliver real reform for all families. We have to work hard, across party lines, and avoid these temptations.
Showing resolve means not giving into the usual political posturing that has characterized the debate on health care for 30 years and has gotten us nowhere. Failing to act responsibly now will result in yet another lost decade of soaring health care costs for families and small businesses.
Working families with good health insurance are now spending over $3,700 of their own annual income just on premiums, drug co-pays, and other out-of pocket costs. The amount a family has to pay before health insurance coverage kicks in has gone up by over 30 percent in the last two years alone.
Even the amount that all of us pay to cover the uninsured as a part of our health care premium - a hidden tax on every family in the country that has health insurance - has increased to over $1,000 a year. This hidden tax will only continue to increase for all families if we keep walking down this path.
Our top priority must be to stop this ever increasing spiral of health care costs that create such a struggle for families and small businesses. But we do not have the luxury of spending recklessly to accomplish these goals.
I agree with the President that reforming the health care system is the most pressing fiscal challenge our nation faces right now. That's right - fiscal challenge.
Fail to reduce costs, and health reform won't work. Fail to pass meaningful reform, and we will face a worsening fiscal mess. Americans spend over $2 trillion on health care each year, yet premiums continue to skyrocket and our coverage is not keeping up with what we are paying for it.
Coloradans know that this is a bad deal, and it's getting worse every day that we don't act.
We don't have to look very hard for enormous cost savings - the potential savings in Medicare and Medicaid are right in front of us. We must look at inefficiencies and perverse incentives in the system and address these first. Medicare's payment incentives spur doctors and nurses to recommend procedures instead of spending more quality time with patients.
We can empower medical professionals to do the best job possible by fixing this incentive structure. And it starts with Medicare - if we want a culture change in healthcare, we must start with our largest healthcare spending program.
If nothing changes, in the next eight years, the cost of health insurance for families covered by their employer will rise by 124%. The average annual cost to cover a family will increase from $11,000 to $25,000.
As you can see, increases in the growth of health care costs have rapidly outpaced increases in family income. The median income has risen by $11,300 in the last decade and is projected to increase by $10,600 in the next decade - income growth will stay relatively stable.
Let's look at growth of health care costs in this same time. In the last decade, health care insurance to cover a family rose by $5,400, and now the cost of health insurance for a family will increase by $14,000 in this next decade. This rapid increase in growth is clearly unsustainable.
What you can see from this chart, Madame Chair, is that median income in real dollars - the increase - remains essentially flat over these decades. From 1996 to 2006, the growth was $11,300 and from 2006 to 2016, we see $10,600. But look at the growth in median health care premium cost at the same time. $5,400 over this period and $14,000 over this period - It's clearly unsustainable. We've just come out of a decade when median family income in the United States in real dollars actually declined by $300. And over the course of the same time, health care cost went up by 80 percent and the cost of higher education went up by 60 percent.
These are not nice to haves, these are essential things if our middle class is to remain intact and we're to preserve the American dream for the next generation of Americans. Our revenues as consumers have been far outstripped by costs of things that are essential to all of us. And it's one of the reasons we find ourselves in the fiscal mess we're in because in order to finance that gap we piled on credit card debt, we had home mortgage loans that we couldn't afford - all to try to finance this gap. It's unsustainable, it's been a house of cards, and we're dealing with the consequence now.
Already, some Coloradans are seeing cutbacks on the benefits in their coverage, and some businesses are no longer able to afford coverage for their workers. Faced with these unchecked increases, health coverage becomes a luxury few families and small businesses can afford. Many people are cutting back on other essentials, visiting the doctor less frequently even when they know they need care.
We must meet this economic challenge head on. The first goal is fixing health care. But we can't forget the second goal - it is just as important - fiscal responsibility. A more efficient health care system can save taxpayers money in the long run.
A study from the White House Council of Economic Advisors shows that smart reform will slow the rapid rise in health care costs by a percent and a half or more. Slowing health care costs by just a percent and a half will have a significant impact on our federal budget.
If we were to look at how much we will save by reforming our health care, economists have shown us our federal deficit will decrease. By 2040, we would have saved enough money to reduce our federal budget deficit by 6 percent from health care cost alone.
Just this point and a half would increase the income of the average family in this country by $2,600 in the next decade, growing our economy and improving our ability to get a handle on the deficit. Colorado families will use $2,600 to make purchases, put away for college tuition and retirement, and obtain new employment skills to improve their earning potential. Part of fiscal responsibility is empowering middle class families. And the current health care system is holding them back.
If nothing changes, employers will see about a ten percent increase in their health care costs next year. Businesses are straining to pay salaries already and remain competitive because health care costs are so high. Every day they are making tough decisions about what kind of benefits they can afford to offer, and whether they can even offer health coverage at all.
Coloradan Jean Butler is the clerk and treasurer for the small town of Blanca in Costilla County. The town has about 400 residents and employs 6 people in its government. Two of those town employees, the town police officer and the head of maintenance (who oversees roads, water and sewer) get health benefits provided with their employment.
The town pays the full premium for the two employees, though they do have to pay some of their out-of-pocket costs. The cost of maintaining a plan that covers just these two employees has become an increased burden on the small town. The coverage has been in place for about 10 years and has increased in cost almost every year.
Jeannie said that the town budgets for a significant increase every year with the hope that it has budgeted enough. In 2008, the increase was 25 percent; the year before it was 15 percent. 40 percent in two years. No other town expense requires such a big year-to-year increase-most others are budgeted to increase with the inflation rate.
Their current plan with San Luis Valley HMO costs the town $804 a month and the employees $750 in out-of-pocket expenses. But that plan is no longer available. Jean said that similar plans from other providers would increase the cost premium anywhere from 33 percent to 235 percent. Even with the smallest cost increase, the total annual cost to the town will be close to $12,000.
Jeannie said - Jeannie told me her official name is Jean but I could call her Jeannie and she said that everyone else does. Jeannie said "My (town) board now has to decide whether to accept the higher rates, reduce the coverage, require the employee to pay a much larger share of the premium, or try something else. It is not an easy decision."
Jeannie may have summed up this problem we face as well as anyone. She pointed out that "they should call it sick care not health care because the insurance companies do not pay to keep anyone healthy."
Because Jeannie cannot find another plan, hard decisions are being made about employees. We can't continue down this path when we know that health care costs are overwhelming businesses and working families.
Ann Brown and her husband, Gordon, run New Vista Image, a large-format digital design and printing company in Golden. The business has nine employees and provides health care benefits, covering 60 percent of each employee's premium, but not that of their dependents.
Ann said she is happy with the choices available in Colorado for different types of plans, and she believes in the employer-provided benefits model. She and her husband built in the cost of health care when they began their business because she knew it would help attract the best employees.
Ann said she understands how important a healthy workforce is and supports wellness programs, so that employees can prevent major medical conditions. Whenever she brings someone in, she knows the first question asked will be, "Do you have a health care plan?"
Nevertheless, the business has been forced to offer less and less coverage in order to keep premiums within its budget. Health care is one of the biggest ticket items they worry about. Ann said that in recent years, the percent cost increase over the previous year has been in the double digits. As a result, they have had to offer less coverage, with higher deductibles and more out-of-pocket costs.
The plan's deductible has gone from $1,500 to $3,000, and Ann said it's likely the next step they will have to take is a $5,000 deductible. She knows how hard those out-of-pocket costs can be for employees to absorb. A few years ago, when an employee was facing a serious health condition, the business covered the deductible so the employee wouldn't be saddled with medical bills.
"I would do it again," Ann said, although she knows that higher deductibles mean a less generous plan to offer to her employees and less of a competitive edge for the business overall.
Teresa Trujillo of Pueblo has employer-based coverage. For seven years Teresa saved up money to buy a home, and then learned she had breast cancer. After fourteen months of treatment, the money ran out and Teresa had to take a loan out to finish paying for the rest of her treatment.
For Teresa, her health insurance coverage only took her so far. While she has been cancer-free for four years, she constantly worries that her cancer will come back, and with it, the huge financial strain that it would bring. All she wants is health care she can count on.
These are people who have done everything right, played by the rules, looked out for their fellow employees and fellow citizens. Our health care system is failing them. People shouldn't have to wait until they get sick to learn that their health insurance won't cover the cost of their treatments. Families shouldn't have to watch their loved ones go through sickness and also deal with the anxiety of paying for medical bills that are increasingly becoming completely unaffordable.
We know health care reform will not be easy. As the President said, if it were easy, we would have done it a long time ago. But for these Coloradans -- for their families, for their businesses - the system must change. For our nation's long-term prosperity, the system must change.
We cannot burden future generations with responsibility for the reform we need today. If we make the hard choices, we will create a better health care system, a better economy, and a better future for our children and our grandchildren.
Madame President, I thank my colleagues for listening this morning, I yield the Floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.