March 23, 2017

On ACA Anniversary, Senator Harris Delivers Speech Against Trumpcare

HD Video: https://s3.amazonaws.com/sdmc-media.senate.gov/HARRIS/032317_HARRIS_1_WEBHD.mp4

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, on the anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate in opposition to the American Health Care Act - also known as "Trumpcare." During the speech, Harris highlighted stories of Californians who have benefited from the ACA and laid out the case against the GOP health care repeal plan and its devastating impact on Californians.

Key Quotes from Senator Harris' Speech:

  • "I rise today to emphasize it is really important that we understand the everyday consequences of this bill. We're talking about real people. If you're a farmer in the Central Valley on Medicaid-you could lose that coverage. If you're a Los Angeles senior with diabetes-you may no longer be able to afford coverage on the individual market. If you're a family in Shasta County with a child dealing with a prescription drug addiction-substance abuse treatment likely will not be covered. If you're a couple in Humboldt County with an ailing parent-your request for home health services could be denied. These are the kinds of Californians-the kinds of Americans-who this plan would hurt."
  • "Ultimately, I believe this bill isn't just about medicine or math- I believe this is about morals. The plan that the House is voting on today is a value statement. And it's not a good one. As our former President said about the ACA, 'This is more than just about health care. It's about the character of our country. And it's about whether or not we look out for one another.' So I think we need to take a good and hard look in the mirror and ask: who are we as a country? Are we a country that cuts the deficit by cutting care for our most vulnerable? Let's look in the mirror and ask - are we a country that gives tax breaks to insurers while giving higher medical bills to patients? Are we a country that tells seniors, and cancer patients, and women-'you're on your own?' Are we a country that sees healthcare as a privilege for a few or a right for all? And I believe that's what we have to decide."

A full transcript of Senator Harris' remarks is below:

Mr. President, I rise to celebrate the anniversary of one of the most significant legislative achievements in American history-the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare."

I rise in strong opposition to the American Health Care Act, a callous and carelessly-written bill that would roll back progress and strip health insurance from millions of Americans.

I rise on behalf of people like Chrystal, from my home state of California.

So you see, I know Chrystal. She works in my dentist's office. And in early 2011, just after I was elected Attorney General of California, I went in for a check-up.

It had been a while since I saw her, and Chrystal asked me how I'd been, and I asked her how she'd been. And then she shared with me great news-she was pregnant.

Now, as a dental hygienist, she was working for a few different dentists and wasn't on the payroll of any of them as a full-time employee. And this was before the ACA was in place, so Chrystal was on private insurance with only basic coverage-just enough to cover her annual exams.

But when Chrystal found out she was pregnant, she went to her insurance company to apply for prenatal coverage. She was denied.

When I asked her why, she told me that they said she has a preexisting condition. So you can imagine I asked her, "You ok? What's wrong? What's the preexisting condition?" And she told me she's pregnant.

When she applied to another health care company for insurance, again, she was denied. Why? Preexisting condition. What was it? She was pregnant.

So this young woman was forced to go into her sixth month of pregnancy before she received a sonogram. And instead, thankfully, there was a free clinic in San Francisco where she could get her prenatal care. Thank God she had a strong and beautiful baby boy named Jaxxen and they're both doing well today.

And thank God that situation is no longer a reality for millions of Americans.

I share Chrystal's story to remind us what America's healthcare system looked like only a few years ago.

And Mr. President, we should not forget:

Before the ACA, 48 million Americans lacked health insurance-that's more people than in the entire country of Canada.

Before the ACA, when these people got sick, they had three choices: go without treatment, go to an emergency room, or go broke.

Before the ACA, 129 million people-almost 1 out of every 2 Americans-could be denied insurance coverage because of preexisting conditions. And the minute you got sick, your insurer could dig up some flimsy reason to drop your coverage.

You could be denied coverage for chemotherapy or insulin if you had cancer or diabetes.

You could be denied prenatal coverage if you were pregnant, like Chrystal.

You could even be denied health coverage if you were a victim of domestic violence.

Before the ACA, healthcare costs were crushing low income and middle class Americans.

Premiums-which of course are those monthly bills that we all pay for our insurance-were going up and up. Sky-high medical bills were the number one reason Americans went broke-causing them to sell their homes, their cars, and even pawn their jewelry to pay off their debts.

But one of the worst things about facing the healthcare system without coverage before the ACA was that it left you feeling utterly alone.

And most Americans know what I'm talking about.

That knot in your stomach when you know there is something wrong with your health, or the health of your child, or your parent-but you're not sure what it is, whether it can be fixed, or whether your insurance will cover it.

The frustration-the anger-as you try to make sense of the fine print and codes on the medical bill that has so many zeroes.

How many of us have walked into an emergency room with a loved one and felt time just stop?

Maybe it was with your child, who was running a fever or having trouble breathing. Maybe your partner is being rushed in with a possible heart attack. All you know is something is wrong.

And all you know is that you're overwhelmed and scared.

And you know, then, that we should not also have to fight on the phone with an insurance company or wonder if a doctor will see us at all.

That's how millions and millions of Americans experienced our healthcare system. And it just was not right. Or fair. So the ACA set out to make things better.

And, 7 years ago today, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. It finally extended good affordable health insurance to Americans like Chrystal and all across the nation. And Vice President Biden was absolutely right when at the time he said it was, quote, a "big" - and I will not quote the next word, let's call it a blanking- "deal."

So, Mr. President, it's a shame that people have been playing politics with this law and with America's health.

The former Speaker of the House said the ACA would be "Armageddon."

A Republican presidential candidate who now sits in the Cabinet called the ACA-and these are his actual words-"the worst thing that has happened in our nation since slavery."

And earlier this month, the President of the United States tweeted that the ACA is, quote, "a complete and total disaster."

Well I say tell that to the people of California.

Because when a state wants to make the ACA work, it works-whether that's California or Kentucky. And real people, living real lives, know it.

For example, I recently heard from Myra, from Sherman Oaks, California, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. And she wrote:

"Before Obamacare, my husband and I lived under constant stress due to our lack of good health insurance..."

But because of the ACA, Myra told me:

"We had a Silver Blue Shield plan that covered... well over a million dollars in bills to date. I am happy to report I am now well, but without insurance, I was facing a death sentence. Without the ACA, we would certainly have had to sell our home to pay my bills and try to figure out how to make ends meet."

She wrote it covered "well over a million dollars." That's what the ACA does.

Here's how Cindy from Oakley, California has experienced real life-when she wrote to me:

"My daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder at 13 years old... I can directly thank the excellent care received at Kaiser Northern California for her good health today at 17. Without the ACA and the mental health parity it helps provide...I would not have had the treatment options available to me."

So again, coverage for mental health treatment. That's what the ACA does.

Honoree, a single mom from Samoa, California, living with a spinal cord injury that has kept her from working for 3 and a half years wrote to me and said:

"I wanted to let you know that I love Obamacare! My healthcare has steadily improved since the ACA was enacted... I can't tell you how AMAZING it felt to get my teeth cleaned and cared for after waiting more than a decade. I walked around for weeks saying 'thanks Obamacare!' whenever I sensed how good my teeth felt...

I would be saddened to see the ACA get scrapped. It's made a huge difference in our lives. Actually, I'd be more than saddened, I'd be very scared."

Again, testimony about the ACA. In this case, dental coverage and improved healthcare. That's what the ACA does.

And I'll say, I believe there's just a huge disconnect between the over-the-top criticism of the ACA and the law's actual impact. There's a disconnect between the politics and how people are actually living and thriving under ACA. In fact, in a recent poll, 1 in 3 Americans didn't even realize that the ACA and Obamacare were actually the same thing. And they are.

So everybody let's be clear about this - the Affordable Care Act is Obamacare. And Obamacare is the Affordable Care Act.

And we all know of course that there are ways to improve, and there are ways indeed to improve the ACA. But ending it is not the answer. Because the truth is, the ACA has largely done what it was supposed to do-expand, protect, and reduce. Expand coverage, to protect consumers, and reduce the pace of rising healthcare costs.

Thanks to the ACA and Medicaid expansion, 20 million more Americans have health insurance. 20 million. That's the population of the entire state of New York.

Thanks to the ACA, premiums are going up at the slowest rate in half a century.

Thanks to the ACA, doctors are innovating and providing better preventive care-from keeping people out of the hospital to delivering healthier babies.

Thanks to the ACA, insurers cannot set lifetime limits on your care-meaning your insurance company won't tell you in the middle of a cancer treatment that they've paid all that they ever will.

Thanks to the ACA, millions of under-served Americans-in rural towns, and in cities, and everywhere in between-have access to care for the first time.

Thanks to the ACA, young people can stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26.

Thanks to the ACA, 55 million women have insurance that works-mammograms, check-ups, and birth control with no co-pay. When you pick up your prescription at the pharmacy and see that bill is zero dollars-well, that's the ACA.

And thanks to the ACA, you can't be discriminated against if you have a preexisting condition-including that preexisting condition called being a woman.

And of course, navigating the healthcare system is still daunting. But things are better. There are now some rules of the road to keep insurance companies from taking advantage of you during some of life's most vulnerable moments.

Because of the ACA-because of Obamacare-you can sleep a little easier at night and know that your care will be there when you need it.

So let's fast forward to today.

Today, we mark the 7th anniversary of this historic, life-changing law. But all that it covers and protects could also be ripped away.

And that's because of the American Health Care Act-the Republican healthcare plan on the House side-and that's what it will do, rip it all away.

They have done their best to mislead folks about their plan. They've criticized objective news reports. And they've even questioned the Congressional Budget Office-which by the way, as we know, is a nonpartisan, independent office-which crunched the numbers and found that this new plan would cause millions of Americans to lose insurance coverage.

So I say, before we leap onto this new bill, let's all ask some key questions. Let's all take a good look at what this plan really would-and would not-do.

First let's ask - will this bill provide "insurance for everybody," as President Trump promised? Well the answer is no.

In fact, the independent Congressional Budget Office says that under the GOP plan, 24 million more Americans will lose their health insurance by the end of the decade. That's equal to the population of 15 states combined.

And who are these people? These are our middle class families, our nation's teachers, and veterans, and truck drivers, and nurses, and farmers. These families include those who struggle with opioid addiction, have a child that needs support for autism, or have an aging parent who needs a nursing home. This bill threatens them all.

Let's ask - will the plan help the folks who need care most? The answer is no.

The House Republican's plan flat tax credits are based only on age, with no consideration of income level. So this is what that means: a 40-year-old cashier making $10,000 gets the exact same as a 40-year-old banker making $74,000. And it doesn't matter whether you live in downtown Manhattan or the Cleveland suburbs or rural Alaska.

Let's ask - will monthly costs go down for low income and middle class families who are stretched horribly thin right now? The answer is no.

According to that same independent analysis, the Republican plan will immediately increase American families' premiums by 15 to 20%, with higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs after that. Over the next decade, a person in their 50's could see their insurance costs go up 850%. Their insurance cost can go up 850%.

Let's ask - what about our seniors-will their monthly costs go down? Well sadly the answer is no.

The Republican plan lets insurers charge seniors five times as much as younger Americans-meaning that the high cholesterol that your doctor diagnosed could cost you $3,200 more a month.

Let's ask - will all women still have access to affordable family planning? The answer is no.

This new bill will give Americans choice in health care-but the women of America will not have choice.

The bill denies women tax credits if they get a plan that covers abortions. It prohibits Planned Parenthood from providing care for millions on Medicaid.

Two and a half million patients choose Planned Parenthood every year, including roughly 1 million in California. They should be able to see the provider they choose and the provider they trust.

Let's ask - will this new plan protect Medicaid, as President Trump promised? Well the answer is no.

Medicaid covers many people whose jobs don't offer healthcare. And it also pays for half of the births in this nation. It supports people with disabilities and children with special needs. Most people don't realize this but Medicaid is the primary payer for treatment of opioid addiction and substance abuse.

But this new plan being offered by House Republicans would roll back Medicaid coverage and cut nearly $1 trillion in Medicaid benefits over the next decade.

Let's ask - does the plan put American families ahead of insurance companies? The answer, tragically, is no.

Under this plan, if you lose your job and it takes more than two months to find another, you'll be charged a 30% penalty on top of the monthly cost you're already paying. That money goes right into the insurance companies' pockets.

So by now, you're probably wondering: "Who exactly does this bill help?" Well, here's your answer:

It gives millionaires a $50,000 average tax cut every year.

It gives the top 0.1% in this country a $195,000 tax cut every year.

And gives insurance companies a $145 billion tax break over the next decade.

The President and the Speaker want you to believe that this plan is good for American families.

But under their bill, the only thing that gets healthier are the insurance companies' bottom lines.

As far as California is concerned, this bill would devastate our families.

Here are the facts, and frankly here is the fight:

Over 5 million Californians have received insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Well I say they're worth fighting for.

Since the ACA went into effect, California's uninsured population has been cut almost in half-from 17% to about 7%. I say they're worth fighting for.

MediCal went from covering 8.5 million Californians three years ago to 13.5 million today. 1 in 2 California children are covered under Medicaid. I say they're worth fighting for.

The community clinics and health centers that so many Californians rely on would be cut back or closed. I say they're worth fighting for.

A UC Berkeley study estimates that repealing the ACA would cost California up to 200,000 jobs, everyone from home health care aides and janitors to workers in retail, restaurants, and accounting. I say they're worth fighting for.

I rise today to emphasize it is really important that we understand the everyday consequences of this bill. We're talking about real people.

If you're a farmer in the Central Valley on Medicaid-you could lose that coverage.

If you're a Los Angeles senior with diabetes-you may no longer be able to afford coverage on the individual market.

If you're a family in Shasta County with a child dealing with a prescription drug addiction-substance abuse treatment likely will not be covered.

If you're a couple in Humboldt County with an ailing parent-your request for home health services could be denied.

These are the kinds of Californians-the kinds of Americans-who this plan would hurt.

And when these folks wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning, worrying about an ache or a pain or their next chemo appointment, I promise you when they wake up with that concern and that thought at 3 o'clock in the morning, they are not thinking about that through the lens of being a Republican or a Democrat.

They think about themselves instead as fathers, and mothers, and parents, and daughters, and sons, and grandparents.

They worry about their health needs and how their health needs will affect not only themselves but their loved ones.

These are not about politics, these concerns. These are universal concerns. And we've all been there.

And it's because all of us share these concerns, and it's because all of us would be badly harmed by this new plan, that this bill is opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the AARP. The most respected medical and patient advocacy groups in this country, and they know what's at stake.

Ultimately, I believe this bill isn't just about medicine or math- I believe this is about morals.

The plan that the House is voting on today is a value statement. And it's not a good one.

As our former President said about the ACA, "This is more than just about health care. It's about the character of our country. And it's about whether or not we look out for one another."

So I think we need to take a good and hard look in the mirror and ask: who are we as a country?

Are we a country that cuts the deficit by cutting care for our most vulnerable?

Let's look in the mirror and ask - are we a country that gives tax breaks to insurers while giving higher medical bills to patients?

Are we a country that tells seniors, and cancer patients, and women-"you're on your own?"

Are we a country that sees healthcare as a privilege for a few or a right for all?

And I believe that's what we have to decide.

The ACA isn't perfect. It can be strengthened-and I'm willing to work with anyone who will work in good faith to do that.

But it's time to stop playing politics with public health.

Our government has three main functions: public safety, public education, and public health.

We shouldn't be turning these responsibilities into partisan issues; instead, we should be figuring out how to improve the lives of all Americans, whether we're Democrats, or Republicans, or Independents.

People are counting on us. People like one of my constituents in Kern County, a woman who is suffering from lung disease, who said:

"We are not asking for much. Decent healthcare. Don't take it away. Make it better."

I say to my colleagues: don't take away American people's healthcare. Let's make it better.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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