John Salazar on Health Care
Democratic Representative (CO-3)
Rep. FRANK PALLONE (D, NJ-6): In the last Congress, we passed legislation that enjoyed bipartisan support as well as the support of the American people. Unfortunately, it did not enjoy the support of the President, who vetoed our bill twice, and went on to proclaim that uninsured children can simply go to the emergency room to have their medical needs met. As the Nation moves deeper into a recession and unemployment rates continue to rise, millions of Americans are joining the ranks of the uninsured, many of whom are children. We can't delay. We must enact this legislation now.
Opponent's argument to vote No:Rep. ROY BLUNT (R, MI-7): This bill doesn't require the States to meet any kind of threshold standard that would ensure that States were doing everything they could to find kids who needed insurance before they begin to spend money to find kids who may not have the same need. Under the bill several thousands of American families would be poor enough to qualify for SCHIP and have the government pay for their health care, but they'd be rich enough to still be required to pay the alternative minimum tax. The bill changes welfare participation laws by eliminating the 5-year waiting period for legal immigrants to lawfully reside in the country before they can participate in this program. In the final bill, we assume that 65% of the children receiving the benefit wouldn't get the benefit anymore. It seems to me this bill needs more work, would have benefited from a committee hearing. It doesn't prioritize poor kids to ensure that they get health care first.
Proponent's argument to vote Yes: Sen. PATTY MURRAY (D, WA): President Bush vetoed a bill that would make vital improvements to the program that has helped ensure that millions of seniors and the disabled can get the care they need. This bill puts an emphasis on preventive care that will help our seniors stay healthy, and it will help to keep costs down by enabling those patients to get care before they get seriously ill. This bill will improve coverage for low-income seniors who need expert help to afford basic care. It will help make sure our seniors get mental health care.
SUPPORTER'S ARGUMENT FOR VOTING YES:Rep. PALLONE. This is a comprehensive bill which will establish full mental health and addiction care parity. The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 authorized for 5 years partial parity by mandating that the annual and lifetime dollar limit for mental health treatment under group health plans offering mental health coverage be no less than that for physical illnesses. This bill requires full parity and also protects against discrimination by diagnosis.
OPPONENT'S ARGUMENT FOR VOTING NO:Rep. DEAL of Georgia: I am a supporter of the concept of mental health parity, but this bill before us today is not the correct approach. This path will raise the price of health insurance, and would cause some to lose their health insurance benefits and some employers to terminate mental health benefits altogether.
The bill's focus is also overly broad. Our legislation should focus on serious biologically-based mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, not on jet lag and caffeine addiction, as this bill would include. There are no criteria for judicial review, required notice and comment, or congressional review of future decisions.
I would ask my colleagues to vote "no" today so that we can take up the Senate bill and avoid a possible stalemate in a House-Senate conference on an issue that should be signed into law this Congress.
LEGISLATIVE OUTCOME:Bill passed House, 268-148
CONGRESSIONAL SUMMARY: This Act would enroll all 6 million uninsured children who are eligible, but not enrolled, for coverage under existing programs.
PRESIDENT'S VETO MESSAGE: Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage--not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage. My Administration strongly supports reauthorization of SCHIP. [But this bill, even with changes, does not meet the requirements I outlined].
It would still shift SCHIP away from its original purpose by covering adults. It would still include coverage of many individuals with incomes higher than the median income. It would still result in government health care for approximately 2 million children who already have private health care coverage.
SUPPORTER'S ARGUMENT FOR VOTING YES:Rep. DINGELL: This is not a perfect bill, but it is an excellent bipartisan compromise. The bill protects health insurance coverage for some 6 million children who now depend on SCHIP. It provides health coverage for 3.9 million children who are eligible, yet remain uninsured. Together, this is a total of better than 10 million young Americans who, without this legislation, would not have health insurance.
The bill makes changes to accommodate the President's stated concerns.
Proponents support voting YES because:
Rep. DINGELL: This is not a perfect bill, but it is an excellent bipartisan compromise. The bill provides health coverage for 3.9 million children who are eligible, yet remain uninsured. It meets the concerns expressed in the President's veto message [from HR976]:
Opponents recommend voting NO because:
Rep. DEAL: This bill [fails to] fix the previous legislation that has been vetoed:
Veto message from President Bush:
Like its predecessor, HR976, this bill does not put poor children first and it moves our country's health care system in the wrong direction. Ultimately, our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage--not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage. As a result, I cannot sign this legislation.
Proponents support voting YES because:
This legislation is an overdue step to improve part D drug benefits. The bipartisan bill is simple and straightforward. It removes the prohibition from negotiating discounts with pharmaceutical manufacturers, and requires the Secretary of Health & Human Services to negotiate. This legislation will deliver lower premiums to the seniors, lower prices at the pharmacy and savings for all taxpayers.
It is equally important to understand that this legislation does not do certain things. HR4 does not preclude private plans from getting additional discounts on medicines they offer seniors and people with disabilities. HR4 does not establish a national formulary. HR4 does not require price controls. HR4 does not hamstring research and development by pharmaceutical houses. HR4 does not require using the Department of Veterans Affairs' price schedule.
Opponents support voting NO because:
Does ideological purity trump sound public policy? It shouldn't, but, unfortunately, it appears that ideology would profoundly change the Medicare part D prescription drug program, a program that is working well, a program that has arrived on time and under budget. The changes are not being proposed because of any weakness or defect in the program, but because of ideological opposition to market-based prices. Since the inception of the part D program, America's seniors have had access to greater coverage at a lower cost than at any time under Medicare.
Under the guise of negotiation, this bill proposes to enact draconian price controls on pharmaceutical products. Competition has brought significant cost savings to the program. The current system trusts the marketplace, with some guidance, to be the most efficient arbiter of distribution.
We are writing on behalf of the House Blue Dog Caucus to request that bipartisan legislation be crafted for passage before the end of this Congress that adequately addresses the funding of the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP programs. As you know, over 39 million seniors and the disabled rely on the Medicare program for their health care. A further 43 million Americans rely on the Medicaid and SCHIP programs. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 has produced cuts in spending far beyond what Congress and the Congressional Budget Office anticipated when the legislation was enacted. These greater-than- expected cuts threaten to jeopardize the health care of seniors and the disabled all across the country. While the Balanced Budget Refinement Act of 1999 did provide some relief, it is clear that we need to do more. As we approach the end of the 106 Congress, it is impossible to th overstate the need for us to work on a bipartisan basis to write meaningful legislation that can be signed by the President.
We strongly believe there is a need to separate the provisions of the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Benefits Improvement and Protections Act from H.R. 2614 and that bipartisan negotiations should be undertaken to improve this package so that it better provides for the critical needs of vulnerable patients. We respectfully submit that by working in a bipartisan basis, the 106 Congress can take th significant actions to help alleviate the current problems being faced by health care providers and patients that must be addressed. Waiting until next year to address this problem may be too late.
We strongly believe that Congress should enact a Medicare prescription drug benefit that is available, affordable, dependable and voluntary for all seniors. The Blue Dog Coalition supports proposals to provide prescription drug coverage through a defined Medicare benefit that is available to all Medicare beneficiaries. Given the shortcomings of existing private plans, we believe that relying on private sector insurance plans will leave many beneficiaries without adequate coverage.
Relying on private sector plans to deliver prescription drug coverage will not achieve the goals outlined above. It will not be cost effective for private plans to offer coverage in rural areas, which will result in expensive government subsidies to attract plans to rural areas. Rural seniors should not be forced to pay higher premiums or have less generous benefits, simply because they live in areas that are not financially attractive to private insurance companies.”
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