Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I take this time—and will share it with the Senator from Minnesota, Ms. Klobuchar, and the Senator from Delaware, Mr. Kaufman—to talk a little bit about health care reform, health insurance reform, and the need for us to act.
Quite frankly, on behalf of middle-income families of America, the very worst option we could do is allow the status quo to continue.
During this time, I am going to be quoting from some letters I received from Maryland families who are hurting today. These are families, some of whom have health insurance but they cannot afford it or they are not certain they are going to have adequate coverage to deal with the needs of their families. They are looking to us to help them deal with the problem of health insurance today.
The first problem, quite frankly, is the fact that it is too expensive. Health insurance in America is too expensive for so many families. As the Senator from Minnesota knows, I use the numbers 6, 12, 23 frequently: $6,000 is what it cost a family in Maryland 10 years ago for a family health insurance policy. Maybe their employer paid part of it. Maybe they paid part of it. Then, it was $6,000 for adequate coverage. Today, that number is $12,000 a family. Many families in Maryland have a hard time affording $12,000 of their compensation going to pay for their health insurance. By 2016, it is going to be $23,000 for a family, if we don't do anything about health insurance reform.
Today, of that money families are spending, $1,100 represents what insured families are paying for people who don't have health insurance. I am frequently asked: What about these 46 million or 47 million Americans who have no health insurance, shouldn't they take care of themselves? I say: Yes, we should have personal responsibility, but today those who have insurance are paying extra costs for those who don't have insurance.
One of the most important points of health insurance reform is to make sure everybody pays their fair load to reduce the cost of those who currently have health insurance.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. CARDIN. Yes.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. That is a very important point about the hidden tax. When I was county attorney in Minnesota, representing one of our biggest hospitals in the State, a lot of people came in who didn't have a doctor. Their doctor was the emergency room. Their doctor still is the emergency room, and it is incredibly expensive. If you could explain that a little more because many people don't understand that when people don't have insurance, we are still paying for them. They call it the hidden tax.
Mr. CARDIN. I thank my colleague for the question. The Senator is right. People who have no health insurance do what they can do. They use the emergency room as their doctor. They use the emergency room when they should not be using it. It is very expensive; it costs a lot of money. By the way, they don't pay their bills. It becomes part of what is known as uncompensated care in our hospitals. What is more serious is, they don't get the preventive health care they need. They get the more intense services than if they had access to our health care system from the beginning. They use the emergency room, as the Senator from Minnesota is referring to, and they don't pay their bills, and that becomes uncompensated care. All of us who pay the hospital bills and pay for our services also pay for what the uninsured are using in the emergency rooms, which adds to the cost of hospital care and adds to the cost of our insurance premiums that we pay for family policies. In Maryland, that amounts to $1,100 a year. That is what you and I are paying for those who don't have health insurance because they are using the health care system and not paying their bills.
Part of health care reform is that everyone should have access to affordable, quality health care and health insurance.
Mr. KAUFMAN. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. CARDIN. Yes.
Mr. KAUFMAN. Isn't it true that when these people don't get prevention, don't have a doctor, don't get the vaccines and the shots they need and they don't go to the emergency room until they are very sick, what happens is they go to intensive care or something or they have a much more serious illness that can go on for weeks and months under intensive care and the price goes up and up?
Mr. CARDIN. The Senator from Delaware is absolutely right. There have been studies done comparing two individuals with the same health care condition, one with insurance and one without insurance. The person who doesn't have insurance uses more health care services than the one who has health insurance, and it is for the reason the Senator said. The person with health insurance will have a much earlier intervention or gets preventive health care, will take blood pressure medicine or cholesterol medicine or will have tests that discover illness at an early stage or prevents an illness; for example, with colon cancer, a polyp can be discovered before it becomes cancerous. A person without insurance doesn't get those services. They enter the system in a much more costly way, which may lead to hospitalization that wouldn't have been necessary if they entered the system at an earlier stage, but they cannot because they have no health insurance. So the Senator is right.
One of the things we do is try to help the families who have health insurance. We can end insurance company abuses. That is a very important point. The health insurance reform package we are looking at will end health insurance company abuses. All the bills reported out of the committees do that. You cannot be denied coverage due to preexisting conditions. There will be no more annual or lifetime caps on benefits. They cannot charge more or drop your coverage if you get sick. It requires them to fully cover preventive care and checkups.
I have received—and my colleagues have, I am sure—letters from people in my State. I wish to tell you how important these health insurance reforms will be in helping middle-income families. I have one example, and I am sure my colleagues can cite others. Here is a letter I received last month from Kevin, who lives in Kensington, Montgomery County.
Kevin is a healthy, nonsmoking, 54-year-old father who was laid off and has recently started his own company. He has two high school-aged children. He recently completed the Marine Corps marathon and has been an avid runner and swimmer all his life. I daresay most of us could not do that.
After Kevin was laid off, all four family members applied for coverage in the individual market. However, Kevin and his two children were denied access to comprehensive coverage because of preexisting conditions. Listen to this. Kevin was denied coverage because the insurance company said he had a history of upper respiratory symptoms. Actually, he has only had two chest colds in the last 6 years. Five years ago, tests showed a very small amount of scar tissue in his lungs, but doctors have concluded this is not a health issue or risk. Yet he was denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. It is important to get health insurance reform passed because insurance companies will not be able to discriminate based on preexisting conditions—that don't even exist, in Kevin's case.
Kevin's daughter's coverage excludes benefits related to any injury to any part of her back. This is because she once had a minor slipped disc, which has not caused her pain in more than 2 1/2 years. This is a common condition among teenage girls, but the insurance company is refusing to cover back injury. Her doctor has written to the insurance company stating that she “has no more likelihood of needing medical services than any other patient her age.” Yet today, Kevin is denied full coverage for his daughter.
It gets even worse. Kevin's son was also refused coverage for his knee because he was diagnosed with growing pains that required no treatment. This means Kevin's son will not be covered for any injury to his knees at any time in the future.
"We have a healthy, physically active family. No doubt healthier and in better shape than 98 percent of the families in this country. And we're told that 3 of the 4 of us are too great a risk to be fully covered . . ."
"We are victims of a health care system that is horribly broken, and our experience in trying to get health insurance for our family—a family that has no chronic health conditions requiring medical treatment—has turned us into strong supporters of health care reform."
Mr. KAUFMAN. Will the Senator yield?
Mr. CARDIN. Yes, I am glad to yield.
Mr. KAUFMAN. This thing with preexisting conditions is incredible. You hear this everywhere you go. In Dover, DE, we have Angela Austin, a recent mother. She works as a bartender. Most of her earnings come from tips. She doesn't get health insurance from her employer.
When Angela became pregnant, she tried to find private health insurance, but she was repeatedly denied coverage because her pregnancy was considered a preexisting condition. She applied for Medicaid—to find prenatal care for her and the baby—but was denied coverage because she earned $200 more than the monthly limit allowed.
She called organizations and clinics and was unable to find a payment plan she could afford. Midway through her pregnancy, Angela decided to cut back her work hours so she could qualify for Medicaid. She worked all 9 months of the pregnancy and delivered the baby on May 27.
The Medicaid coverage she got was especially crucial because she had complications from hyperthyroidism and was able to get the necessary prescriptions to control the condition.
The story gets even worse. Angela was so anxious that everything possible be done to ensure a healthy baby, the system threw up roadblocks.
Pregnancy should not be considered a preexisting condition. What is more, no one should be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. There are many cases where people are totally healthy, and they have been denied coverage because of preexisting conditions. We are going to pass a bill that eliminates not being acceptable for preexisting conditions.
Mr. CARDIN. I think people in this Nation would be shocked to hear about that situation and for someone who is totally healthy being denied full coverage because the insurance company just wants to deny coverage, just wants to pay less claims in the future, so it finds reasons to restrict coverage, even though that person is as healthy as anybody in the general public but is being denied coverage today.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Will the Senator yield?
Mr. CARDIN. Yes.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. I also was listening to this and thinking, about a week ago, I was at an event that Mrs. Obama, the First Lady, put on for breast cancer in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There were three women there who all had breast cancer. They were all survivors, and they had incredibly low rates of possibly getting breast cancer again because of advances in science. I was stunned to hear of their difficulty. Even though their possibilities of getting breast cancer again were so low, it was still considered a preexisting condition for an insurance policy. A recent example, when you think about it hitting middle-class families—and some of the people watching this on C-SPAN may have seen this on television—a little boy named Alex was denied coverage by his family's health plan. Alex's parents have coverage through their employers, similar to so many middle-class Americans. But their 4-month-old son Alex, who weighed 17 pounds—and my daughter was one of those low percentages when she was born. He weighed 17 pounds at 4 months old, so he was denied coverage. The insurance company claims this was a preexisting condition for the otherwise healthy baby because of his weight.
Here is the interesting part—and I know the Presiding Officer from Montana will appreciate this. After his family went on TV with the little boy, then the insurance company changed its mind and, suddenly, decided to cover him. I guess the lesson is that middle-class families have to go on TV to make their case in order to get coverage or when a woman who has been a victim of domestic abuse is denied coverage—which is considered to be a preexisting condition in eight States—maybe if she was willing to talk about her domestic abuse on TV, there would be a change of heart. That is not good enough—coverage by cable TV—for the majority of Americans. They need stability in the system. They need a guarantee that they are going to have coverage. I thank the Senator from Maryland for raising this important issue.
Mr. CARDIN. If I might mention another family in Maryland, a typical family—Marvin and Lillian, who live in Chevy Chase, who are grandparents. I can relate to that, having two wonderful granddaughters. Marvin is a retired Federal Government employee. Both he and his wife Lillian have Medicare. They are in pretty good shape. However, they are worried about their grandchildren.
They have a grandson who is 14 years old. He has Crohn's disease and dwarfism. He currently has coverage through his parents, but his family is petrified that he will be denied coverage when he is no longer able to receive insurance through his parents. Because of his preexisting conditions, it will be extremely hard for him to find individual coverage while job hunting or adequate coverage while at school. Without reform, high health care costs will preclude him from starting his own business or working for a small business owner.
"My grandson's future employment prospects will be limited because he will need an employer with a large group plan to ensure good coverage. If he gets sick without coverage, or very limited coverage, it would be a disaster."
It is truly unacceptable that in America today, because of the way our health insurance system operates, that a person's future and what type of job that person can seek is limited because of a preexisting condition. That does not make this Nation as competitive as we need to be. We can certainly do a much better job on that now.
There are two good points here. One is that we eliminate preexisting conditions. That would be taken care of. We also provide coverage through the age of 26 so that you can keep a child on your family plan coverage through the age of 26. I think this is going to be a very popular issue. This is one area that does not cost a lot of money. Children in their early twenties are not at high risk. It is unlikely this will add greatly to the insurance premium cost—in fact, it will not—but it does give greater assurances for those children who are not yet fully in the workplace—so they do not have the opportunity to get an affordable health insurance product—that they can stay on their parents' policy until age 26. That is another way we are going to help families.
Lastly, the other area we want to be sure is done is when people change jobs. We know this is a very mobile workforce; people change jobs much more frequently today than they did 10 years ago. This bill will make sure you always have health insurance, even if you lose or change your job. You are not going to be locked into a company because you don't want to lose your health benefits. I must tell you, I hear that frequently from people in Maryland. I am sure my colleagues hear it in Minnesota and Delaware. People say: I want to change jobs, but I can't because I don't want to lose my health benefits. That should not be a reason someone shouldn't be able to look for other opportunities. When we get health insurance done, people will be able to get insurance regardless of where they work. There will be affordable coverage for all Americans. That will help middle-income families. That is our objective. That is what we are trying to do.
Another area I want to mention briefly is small businesses. We hear frequently that small business owners have a hard time finding affordable insurance. I will give a couple examples of people from Maryland.
Steven from Annapolis is a self-employed small business owner. Steven's health care premiums have increased by unmanageable amounts. Steven is currently paying 55 percent more for his family health insurance than he was 14 months ago—a 55-percent increase in 14 months. The premiums for Steven and his family, all of whom are healthy, are approaching $10,000 annually. In August, his premiums increased 24 percent, after having increased 25 percent in 2008. He wakes up in cold sweats worried about how he can afford such high costs. Steven sent me his most recent health insurance bill, which showed the 24.1-percent increase.
"We are worrying about these problems 24 hours a day. That is no exaggeration."
"Small business people wake up in a cold sweat, as I have done many times through the course of this difficult recession, wondering how we are going to meet our client deadlines, pay our bills, and be a good father and husband all at the same time."
For small businesses, if you have one bad experience with health care during the year, you can expect a large premium increase the next year. It is one thing about health insurance being expensive as it is, but if you are a business owner, how can you plan your company budget when you don't know what your health premiums are going to be the next year?
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Will the Senator yield?
Mr. CARDIN. I will be glad to yield to my friend from Minnesota.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. One of the things I have learned in the past year meeting with small business owners is this huge disparity. Small businesses pay 20 percent more. The ones that are the bedrock of our entrepreneurial system in this country pay 20 percent more than big businesses for health care. Their employees are in a small business, but the ones who need it the most, the ones who probably make less income, pay 20 percent more for health insurance.
I was up in Two Harbors, MN, visiting a little backpack company that has done such a good job. They now make backpacks for our troops because they are lighter weight and better for their backs. This little company started with a few employees; it now has 15, 20 employees.
When the owner of that company started it, he didn't have kids. He now has two kids—four in their family. He is paying $24,000 a year for his health insurance. This is a little tiny backpack company in Two Harbors, MN. When the Senator from Maryland was telling us about people having to adjust, they cannot plan, he told me if he had known when he started that much of his profits were going to go into his health insurance, he would not even have started the company to begin with.
This not only hurts our employees, it actually stops small businesses from starting—the incubator of so many of our great ideas in this country and jobs in this country. This is truly something that needs to be solved because it is hurting jobs in this country, the fact that it is so difficult for small business owners to afford health care.
Mr. KAUFMAN. Will the Senator yield for a minute?
Mr. CARDIN. I yield to the Senator from Delaware.
Mr. KAUFMAN. This is another example. It is not just Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, California, or New York. On the same subject, Ian Kaufman—no relation—moved to Delaware right out of college in 1990. Unfortunately, like far too many Americans today, he got laid off from his job. To get back on his feet, he wanted to start his own business. In the process, Ian picked up COBRA coverage to ensure his family maintained health care insurance. When he first signed up for COBRA coverage, his monthly premium was $1,800—a lot of money each month. Thanks to the COBRA provisions, however, in the stimulus bill, Ian saw his payments reduced by 66 percent, which made his monthly premiums much more manageable. However, this premium assistance will soon run out, and then he will be back once more to paying $1,800 a month. In anticipation of higher COBRA payments, Ian applied for coverage at BlueCross BlueShield but was turned down. They never gave him a reason. He suspects—what we were talking about earlier—that there was a preexisting condition of one of his daughters.
Ian worries, like so many Americans, that the high cost of providing health care to his family, in addition to the difficulty of finding a willing policy provider, will affect his ability to stick with his startup business—the point my colleagues were making of starting up a business and being worried about health care.
Unfortunately, Ian's health insurance predicament as a self-employed businessman is not uncommon. There are entirely too many sole proprietors and small businesses that cannot afford health policies for themselves, their families, and any employees they might have, thereby killing the innovators of our system, the people who create the jobs, the people who made America great, the small businesspeople. They cannot go into business because they are worried about health care not just for their employees, but they have to worry about health care for themselves and their families. We have to change that if we are going to get innovation back in the country and small businesses up and running.
Mr. CARDIN. Small businesses are clearly the driving force behind job creation in America. The Senator from Delaware is absolutely right. Innovation comes from small business. They are so discriminated against under our current health care system. Middle-income families, in large measure, work for small businesses, and they are absolutely disadvantaged today because of the system.
The status quo is unacceptable. We need to enact insurance reforms under what we have here. Small companies can benefit the same as large companies, with much larger pools, much more affordable plans, more choices.
There are really no options for small businesses today. They do not have a lot of companies willing to write the policies. It is interesting, in my State of Maryland, two insurance companies write 71 percent of the private insurance business. If you are a small business owner, you are either going to be with one of those companies or you are not going to be able to find insurance. They can pretty much dictate.
One more example. Robert, who lives in Baltimore, is a married architect who has health insurance with one of our large insurance companies. His insurance for himself and his wife is $20,000 a year—$20,000 a year. As a small bus i ness per son—listen to this—not only does he have to pay these high premiums, but if he needs to find a gastroenterologist in order to do a test, there are plenty of gastroenterologists in his neighborhood, but the insurance company will not cover a doctor in that area. He has to travel all the way across town. He says he spends more time finding out who will treat him because he doesn't have a choice of plan. He has to be in this plan. So there is a lot of wasted money in the system he has to go through.
By the way, if you are in a small business, running a small business, you have to spend time on your business. If you don't spend time on your business, you are not going to make it. If you have to spend time to figure out what doctor you can see under the small print in your insurance plan, you are not going to succeed as a bus i ness per son.
There are a lot of good reasons why we need health insurance reform in America. There are a lot of good reasons we need to act, a lot of good reasons middle-income families are depending on us to fix this broken system—it is too expensive, not enough choice. The health insurance reforms coming out of our committees all provide much more choice and option and protection to the people in our communities.
Mr. KAUFMAN. One of the great ironies in this whole health care debate, which is full of ironies, is I talk to so many small businesspeople, and they are scared of the public option. They have been scared by the ads and things on television. As you say, for a small bus i ness per son, the public option is going to be their choice to get the health care they need, simple health care that is laid out for them that makes a lot of sense.
One of the big things we have to get through to people is exactly what the story is here and what really will help them get their health insurance so we can have small businesses built up, get more employees, create more jobs, and create the jobs we need for the country.
Mr. CARDIN. The public insurance option is another choice. There is more competition. It brings down costs. That is why we support a public option. It is a reliable product you know is going to be there.
If you are living in western Maryland—and there are not a lot of insurance companies there—you know there is a public option, that plan will be there for you. You know it is going to be affordable. You know it is not going to leave town, as some of the private insurance companies did that used to insure Medicare. These plans will be there.
It is also going to act as strong competition for the private insurance companies so they know they have to be competitive. Today, again, it is not competitive. There are not enough companies there.
The private insurance option will offer people, such as Robert whom I mentioned, another option, another choice, an affordable plan. That is what he is looking for. He cannot afford $20,000 a year. He is looking for a premium much more affordable than $20,000 a year, and the public insurance option gives him that choice.
One other thing about the public option that needs to be clarified. There are those who say: This is a government takeover. Is Medicare a government takeover? The answer is no. There has not been one Senator come to this floor to say we should repeal Medicare. Medicare has been a very successful program.
By the way, health insurance reform will strengthen Medicare. Why? Because the way to bring down Medicare costs is to bring down health care costs. What we have been doing year after year is picking on Medicare, saying we are going to control health care costs by reducing Medicare. We cannot do it. You have to bring down health care costs to bring down Medicare costs. And what we do is strengthen the Medicare benefits by giving additional benefits, starting to fill that doughnut hole under the prescription drug plan, offering preventive care to our seniors. So we are strengthening the Medicare Program. The doctors and the hospitals are all private, as they would be under a public option. This is a way of providing more competition, quite frankly, keeping the private insurance companies a little bit more competitive and honest as they do their marketing, to make sure we get value for the dollars we are paying for our health insurance premiums.
Mr. KAUFMAN. Again, once more, the irony. Isn't it an incredible irony that people come to the floor and talk about reducing the deficits, reducing the deficits, reducing the deficits, but they don't have health care reform. We know the major cause for the increase in deficits is Medicare and Medicaid, not because they are bad programs but because health care costs explode. There is no way they cannot get greater. That is our biggest challenge in terms of deficit reduction. We have to do something about Medicare and Medicaid costs.
People talk about deficits and then say we don't need health care reform, why don't we slow down, we don't need it now, this is not important. We cannot deal with our deficits if we don't deal with health care costs because without dealing with health care costs, we cannot deal with Medicare and Medicaid. The Senator is absolutely right.
Mr. CARDIN. Health care costs are growing about three times what wages are growing in America today. That means a government that pays for Medicaid and Medicare will continue to pay a larger amount of the budget for health care unless we can get health care costs under control. It also means American families are going to be paying more of their income for health care unless we get health costs under control.
So how do we get health care costs under control? We do it by prevention and we do it by wellness and by streamlining the bureaucratic system, by using health information technology more effectively and by managing diseases. We do it in a way that brings down health care costs and improves access and quality, and that is what we are doing.
The Senator from Delaware is absolutely right. Our goal is quite simple: bring down the escalating cost of health care, provide access to affordable quality health care for every American family, and do it in a fiscally responsible way.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Well, I thank Senator Cardin. As I was listening, I was thinking about how I first got involved in this whole debate. My story is like so many moms and middle-class parents. It involved rules, rules that made no sense when it is your family's health at stake.
When my daughter was born, she was very sick. She couldn't swallow. They thought she had a tumor. She was in intensive care overnight. Back then, the insurance companies had a rule that you could only stay in the hospital 24 hours—new moms and their babies. For some people, when you have been in labor for 24 hours and you think your daughter might die for 24 hours, it doesn't make sense. So 24 hours after giving birth, I was kicked out of the hospital. I was wheeled out of the hospital while my daughter was there in intensive care.
I thought to myself: This is never going to happen to anyone again. I went to the legislature with a number of other moms and got one of the first bills passed in the country guaranteeing new moms and babies a 48-hour hospital stay. I still remember the conference committee where we had a number of lobbyists who couldn't say they were against the bill, but they were trying to delay the implementation. They were trying to make it so that it wouldn't take effect for years and years and years.
I finally decided to bring my pregnant friends to that conference committee so they outnumbered the insurance company lobbyists 2 to 1. When the legislators said: When should this bill take effect, all the pregnant moms raised their hands and said: Now. And that is what was happening.
I can tell Senator Cardin, this is what the American people are saying. They are saying: Now. They need reform now because of what you have just talked about—the fact that costs have been escalating and escalating, and it is becoming more and more unaffordable for so many middle-class Americans.
In 2008, employer health insurance premiums increased by 5 percent, two times the rate of inflation. Everyone feels it. Everyone knows what I am talking about.
When people throw out all these numbers—and we hear all these numbers from the other side—I believe you only have to know three numbers. Senator Cardin brought them up before, three simple numbers. They are easy to remember: 6, 12, and 24.
What do the numbers 6, 12, and 24 represent? Well, $6,000 was the cost of insurance for the average American family 10 years ago. They were paying that in their premiums. They are now paying $12,000. Some people are paying a lot more, such as the small business owner I talked about in Two Harbors, MN. But the average is $12,000.
What do the studies show? They show that in 10 years people in Billings, MT, people in Delaware, people in Baltimore, people in the tiniest towns in this country will be paying an average of $24,000 a year. Do you think they are going to be able to afford that, the average middle-class family, $24,000 a year? I think every family can look at their own checkbook and figure out that answer. That is why we need health care reform now.
I think of the people I have heard from in my State, such as Jan in Plymouth who wrote the other day about her 20-year-old daughter Jennifer. Jennifer was diagnosed almost a year ago with Hodgkin's lymphoma. She made it through chemotherapy but is still being monitored. She had to continue going to college to keep her health care coverage. Despite having good health care insurance, Jan and her husband had to use their retirement fund to cover the out-of-pocket expenses of Jennifer's chemotherapy. Jennifer has since taken some time off from school to recover and is going to be transferring to a new school soon. Her parents don't know how they are going to keep her insured.
That is why the point was made about this plan allowing parents to keep their kids on their insurance until they are 26 years old. I can't tell you what good news that is to the parents of America who are struggling and who are thinking: Once my kid goes to college, what is going to happen because they would not have a job? How are they going to get insurance?
Now, until they are 26 years old, they are going to get insurance. That would help this family in Minnesota tremendously.
The preexisting conditions—I talked about three women with breast cancer who were there with the First Lady—unbelievable stories of people who, through no fault of their own, get a disease, they are not sick anymore but they get thrown off their insurance policies; kids who are a little overweight or a little underweight—the only way they can get rid of this thing off their backs and get health insurance is by going on TV? I think we would have to have permanent TV stations going around the clock to cover all these families who want to get their preexisting conditions off their backs. That is not going to work in this country. The better way is to pass health care reform.
The Senator from Maryland brought up the cost, and I can tell you that for a lot of people in Minnesota, that is the No. 1 issue I hear: How can we afford this? What can we do about it? Well, I can tell the Senator from Delaware—and I see the Senator from Illinois, Mr. Durbin, is here, and he has been working hard on the Medicare fraud issue on the Judiciary Committee, as well as the Senator from Maryland—that 3 to 10 percent of our health care dollars go down the tube to crooks, to con men, and we are not doing anything about this. There is money in the system, and it is just going to the wrong places.
Another way to solve this is with trying to put morequality measures into our system, trying to have high quality care at the lowest cost. People understand if you go to a hotel and you spend more money on a room, you tend to get a better room, a bigger room, with a nicer view. With health care, it is not the case. With health care, some of the highest cost places have the lowest quality care. So one of the things that health reform allows us to do is to put in those high-quality measures.
So we start having incentives. We say to hospitals: If you have less infections in your hospital, which means more people live, you will be treated better in the system. So we will put in incentives so that doctors treat their patients better and, believe it or not, that is the way we are going to save money.
Why is that? So many times the way the system operates, it is about reimbursing for every little test, every little thing you do, instead of looking at the rules or looking at the quality of care that you can get at the end of the road. And that is what we want to do with this legislation. There is a value index in this legislation.
The bill that came out of the Finance Committee, which Senator Cantwell and I have worked hard on, let's us look at the value to the patient. Let's put patients in the driver's seat so they can get the value, so middle-class families can get the same kind of health care that Members of Congress get, so they can get the kind of value they want out of their health care.
So when we look at how we can pay for this, there are so many ways. We can not only save some money, such as plug that doughnut hole so that seniors can get better deals on their prescription drugs, but we can do it so we can give people higher quality care. We are going to link rewards to outcomes to create the incentives for doctors and hospitals to work together to improve quality and efficiency. That is what we are trying to do.
So I thank Senaor Cardin for bringing up this issue of cost because for so many middle-class families in my State, they understand we want to have not only more affordable care but also high-quality care. They do not like these kinds of mistakes that go on, and there are some things we can do by creating incentives for safer procedures and for better standards for hospitals and for doctors that I think could go a long way toward paying for a lot of what we need to do.
Mr. CARDIN. I thank my colleague from Minnesota. She has been a real fighter for middle-income families and working families in America and in Minnesota and has brought out these issues of how we can improve the standard of living.
I think the point the Senator raises is one that needs to be underscored. Today, working families, middle-income families are seeing an erosion of their income. They are seeing more and more of their compensation going to pay for health benefits. If their employers are paying for it, it means less take-home money for them in their paychecks. If they have to pay the cost, they are seeing more and more of an increase. Again, health care costs are going up three times what wages are going up in America. So middle-income families are falling behind every year, and they are depending on us to speak up for them.
They are also paying a hidden tax—a hidden tax. Middle-income families today are spending $1,100 a year paying for those who don't have health insurance. We talked about that earlier. That is a hidden tax. We have to get rid of that tax.
One of the things we do in our health insurance reform is to get rid of that tax by saying that everyone has to be responsible for their own health care costs. Why should I pay for someone who today could have health insurance but chooses not to have health insurance?
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. If the Senator will yield, I think it is unfair to middle-class families who are trying to save every penny so they can send their kids to college—and those costs are going up—and to put food on the table and fill their car with gas, to have this hidden tax where they are paying for people who aren't getting health insurance or can't afford health insurance. That is why I think one of the most important things for people to understand about this bill is that we are already paying for these people who don't have health insurance. So let's make it more efficient and work for everyone so you can get some benefit out of this yourself.
Mr. CARDIN. It is interesting that one of the ways we can save money from the Medicare system is to get everybody to pay their health care bills. Our seniors are paying higher costs under the Medicare system because people use the system who are not Medicare beneficiaries and don't pay for it. So Medicare, every year, pays a premium to our hospitals called DIS—the disproportionate share—for the uncompensated care in the hospitals. The Medicare system is paying for that. Our seniors could be getting better benefits if everyone paid their own way rather than having our seniors subsidize those who have no health insurance.
So these are ways in which we do help middle-income families in America.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. I was just with a group of seniors this past weekend in Richfield, MN, and they are worried because they hear about these numbers—that by 2017, if we don't do something, Medicare will go in the red. Those seniors are living longer and longer lives, which is a great thing. Hopefully, my mom is watching right now; she is 82 years old. But those who are 65 want to have Medicare when they are 95 years old, and those who are 65 want to make sure Medicare is there for them when they are 90 years old. That is why it is so important to look at this reform and make sure this is working for the seniors.
The doughnut hole, I am so tired of worrying about that problem. These seniors have their health care coverage for their drugs, and then it vanishes and goes down the doughnut hole. One of the great things I like about this health care reform is that it will help them pay for the doughnut hole. I think 50 percent of those costs they will not have to worry about anymore.
Mr. CARDIN. Not only will we be able to help them with the doughnut hole on prescription drugs, we will be able to provide them better health care services with lower copayments and deductibility, and we are providing a stronger system.
Look, I think we all have a common interest. If you are a family that currently has health insurance, if you are a small business owner who is covering your employees, if you are covered under the Medicare system today, you all have an interest in making sure we pass the health insurance reform that is being debated now in the Congress.
For those who have insurance, it will make your coverage more affordable in the future. It will eliminate this hidden tax, and it will enact significant health insurance reforms to protect you against the arbitrary practices of private insurance companies.
If you are a small business owner, it will give you more competition, more reliable premiums without being increased radically on a yearly basis. It will provide competition so that you can get the same benefits a large company can get with larger pools.
If you are in the Medicare system, it takes some of the cost out of Medicare that you are currently subsidizing for people who are uninsured. It firms up our health care system, which is good for Medicare in the future as far as keeping it safe and sound, and it allows us to expand benefits, such as the prescription drug benefit, and get rid of that doughnut hole.
So we are all in this together. But the only option that we cannot afford to have is the status quo. The letters we have read on the Senate floor from people who are literally being forced out of their current coverage, who are being discriminated against by insurance companies because of preexisting conditions that don't even exist, they are depending upon us to act.
I see the assistant majority leader is here, and I mention that because Senator Durbin has been one of the real leaders in taking on some of the tough interests in our country—taking on the tobacco companies and dealing with tobacco and children, taking on prescription drugs to make sure we have affordable drugs in America. So I thank him for his leadership because I know he has been one of the real leaders on this issue in the Senate.
I know all of us will do everythig we can to help middle-income families. We have worked hard to strengthen Medicare over the years, fought the efforts by those who wanted to privatize Medicare, who wanted to weaken Medicare, and we are committed to making sure that these programs are strengthened, are continued, and that is why we are so passionate about the need for us to take up health insurance reform, for us to make sure we protect middle-income families.
Mr. DURBIN. If the Senator will yield for a question?
Mr. CARDIN. I am glad to yield.
Mr. DURBIN. I thank the Senator from Minnesota, Ms. Klobuchar, and Senator Cardin from Maryland for their leadership coming to the floor. I have been following the floor all day.
I heard from the other side of the aisle a litany of complaints that they have about health care reform. Leading off in the complaints about health care reform is the number of pages in the bill. The fact is, there is no Senate bill; it is in preparation at this moment. But the Republican side of the aisle, starting with Senator McConnell, the leader, through other Senators, continues to come to the floor and bemoan the fact that this bill may actually reach 2,000 pages in length. I don't know that it will. I don't know that it will not. I don't know that it makes any difference. I don't think people back home really care if this is a short bill or a long bill as long as it is a good bill, as long as it does what needs to be done.
When you get down to the issues we are talking about, we want to make sure the language is precise. If we are going to fight the health insurance companies—and believe me, they are spending a fortune trying to stop us. But if we are going to fight the health insurance companies to make sure people have a fighting chance when they have a health insurance plan not to be canceled when they have a preexisting condition, so they have a health insurance plan that is there when they need it when they get sick, a health insurance plan that has enough money in it to pay for what they need, pay for preventive care, then let's take the time and write the pages that are necessary. Trust me, the attorneys for the insurance companies will be fighting us in court every step of the way as we try to make these changes.
I was listening to the Senator from Maryland and the Senator from Minnesota. I recall a story I learned when I went home about a good friend of mine whose son has been battling cancer for years. He is a bright young man who developed a melanoma and has gone through extensive radiation and chemotherapy and also surgeries. It has been a valiant effort on his part. Two years ago, his oncologist found a drug that made a difference for him. He was cancer free. He was as happy as he has been for a long time because of this drug.
I think you know how this story is going to end. Just 2 months ago, his health insurance company notified him that they would no longer pay for this drug that he needed. His oncologist sent a letter to the insurance company and said: This drug I am using off-label is working for him. It has arrested the spread of his cancer, saved his life, and you need to continue it.
The insurance company said: No, we will no longer pay for this.
The drug costs $13,000 a month. There is no way this young man and his young family can pay for this. Even if his dad, mom, and all the relatives mortgage their homes, they just can't pay for it.
It shows you how average people who pay premiums all their lives are at the mercy of an insurance company executive or, worse, an insurance company clerk who decides to just say no. That happens every single day.
I have been waiting for the first person on the Republican side of the aisle to stand up and say: We may disagree on a lot of things, but we sure do agree we have to do something about health insurance reform. The way they are treating Americans is unacceptable. But we never hear that from that side of the aisle.
I hope at the end of the day we will be able to come together in a bipartisan way. We all want to. But there may come a point where we cannot. If standing up to the health insurance companies can only be done on this side of the aisle, so be it. Let's gather the votes, and let's do it. But at the end of the day for that family and many in Maryland and Minnesota, that is going to be the test of whether health care reform works. Will the costs start coming down? Will you have a fighting chance with the health insurance company when you really need protection? Will it pay for things that mean something to you, such as maintaining a person on diabetes prevention and wellness? Will it start bringing more people into the protection of health insurance so, as Senator Cardin said, we all are not paying for those who show up as charity cases at the hospital? Those are the bottom-line questions.
I thank the Senator for raising this because I think this goes to the heart of this health care debate.
Mr. CARDIN. A little earlier, I read into the record several letters I received from Marylanders. That was a sampling. I received a lot more. But it just points out—a letter from a Marylander who was denied full coverage, not only for himself but his two children, for preexisting conditions that didn't even exist, frankly—they didn't exist—but the insurance company was in a position where they could write a policy the way they wanted to write it, and this person in Maryland had no choice. There was no other insurance company that person could get. There was no competition there. We need to do something about that. We need to make it clear. I agree with the Senator, if it takes 10 pages or 100 pages or 1,000 pages, we have to make it clear that insurance companies cannot do those types of practices against people in this Nation. They cannot underwrite based upon preexisting conditions.
It seems as though insurance companies want to write insurance policies where no one can make claims. We buy insurance to protect us. Insurance needs to be there. That is one of the reasons we eliminate caps. Insurance should be there to give you the coverage when you need it. If that family needs that medicine to keep that child alive, that is why you have insurance. Insurance should cover that. If it takes 1,000 pages, let's make sure we get it right to protect the people in this Nation.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. If the Senator will yield, I was thinking, as the Senator from Illinois was talking about the number of pages in bills, when we were in the middle of this country's worst economic crisis since the Depression under the Bush administration and people were trying to figure out what to do, if you remember, the administration came forward with a bill that gave nearly $1 trillion out to banks, and it was something like 25 pages long, if I remember. I think the people in this country said: Hey, wait a minute, this is a major issue; 25 pages or 10 pages or 3 pages or 100 pages is not enough.
We are dealing with an incredibly complicated issue—with insurance companies that have been running this show for so long. The fact that we are going to spend some time on this bill, as the Senator from Illinois has pointed out—and the Senate bill is not even done yet. We are still working on this, we are still bringing through these consumer reforms and that which is going to be good for the people of America.
I really am a little tired of hearing about the number of pages. As I said, I think there are 3 numbers that matter here: 6, 12 and 24. Mr. President, $6,000 is what an average family paid 10 years ago—$6,000. Now an average family pays $12,000. What are you going to pay 10 years from now? What are you going to pay if nothing is done here—just keep going the way we are going, with the cost, the waste in the system, the Medicare fraud, and all these things that should not be going on? Mr. President, $24,000 is what the average family is going to pay. We need to start bringing those costs down, and the only way we take on these companies that have been putting in place these rules that say if a baby is 4 months old and happened to weigh 17 pounds, just a little underweight, you can't get insurance, and his family's insurance company—the only way we are going to help by taking them on, and I don't care how many pages it takes.
Mr. CARDIN. I thank my colleagues, Senator Klobuchar from Minnesota, Senator Kaufman from Delaware, and Senator Durbin from Illinois, for their comments and for their passion on this issue. This is an issue we have to get right for middle-income families in America. They are the ones hurting. They are the ones who cannot afford this current system. They are the ones falling further and further behind every year. These are the ones—subject to the discriminatory practices of private insurance companies—we have a responsibility to protect. These are the ones paying the hidden tax for people who do not have health insurance, many of whom can afford health insurance but choose not to get it. It is our responsibility to act on behalf of middle-income families in America to make sure we have the health care system that is affordable and is available to every person in this country.
What we are doing is to bring down the cost of health care, to make sure we have affordable care for every person, every American, and do it in a fiscally responsible way. I urge my colleagues to make sure we take advantage of this opportunity. Let's make sure we get health care reform done, and done as soon as possible.