01.10.17

Floor Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Budget Resolution, S. Con. Res. 3 (To Instruct Committees To Draft Legislation To Repeal The ACA)

The 115th Congress convened just last week. I had hoped that with all the turmoil in the country that we would begin the year with a renewed sense of cooperation. But I am sorry to say, my friends in the Republican Party have chosen a different path.

The very first thing on the agenda is to press forward with a sham budget. If you ask why we have a sham budget, a fake budget, an unrealistic budget—we find out that its only purpose is to set up a process to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a simple majority vote. Why? Because they know the American people would never allow a repeal to pass otherwise.

So instead of working to finalize appropriations bills for this year—already more than 3 months in—or to invest in our Nation’s critical infrastructure, or to truly bolster our Nation’s cyber security, when we see countries such as Russia and other places attacking our cyber systems, or even to improve the Affordable Care Act so we can ensure that more people can receive affordable coverage, I am afraid the Republicans are recklessly rushing forward solely to fulfill an ill-considered campaign promise.

They are pushing American families over the cliff with the vague promise: Yeah, we will repeal it, but don’t worry because eventually we will come up with a plan to replace it.

Jump first, plan later is anything but a responsible formula for someone’s health, for sound decisions; and all the more so when the health insurance of tens of millions of Americans and American families all over the country—Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike—is at stake.

The majority leader and others have said the repeal of the Affordable Care Act is only the first step. They say that a full repeal is necessary to pave the way for a replacement. They say: Let’s leave ObamaCare in the past. Well, when you strip away the rhetoric and get rid of it, the only alternative they offer the American people is don’t get sick—because if you get sick, you are in trouble.

The American people have a right to know what a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act really means. A repeal of this law would not just take away the rights and care of millions of patients and their families; it would eliminate insurance coverage for millions more— especially the aging, the elderly, men and women with preexisting conditions, and the most vulnerable children.

A repeal of the Affordable Care Act would turn back the clock to a bad time in this country where once again women would have to pay more for health insurance than men, where insurance companies could rescind a health insurance policy simply because someone gets sick, and coverage could forever be denied to someone born with a disease or ailment, and that includes children. So you could buy a health insurance policy so you were covered in case you got sick, but the insurance companies could then say: Oh, you are sick. Sorry, no more insurance.

Now, in my State of Vermont, the Affordable Care Act has reduced the number of Vermonters without insurance by 53 percent. Tens of thousands have gained coverage under the expansion of Medicaid. And because the Affordable Care Act closed the prescription drug ‘‘donut hole,’’ more than 10,000 Vermont seniors saved $12 million in prescription drugs in 2015 alone. And this is just in the second smallest State in the Union. Can you imagine what it is like in larger States?

I have heard stories from many Vermonters about how vital this law is to them and their families. I have heard from family doctors, like one in the southwest corner of our State in Bennington, who remembers when his patients couldn’t afford treatment because of lifetime and annual limits on health care coverage, something that was very common. Or a woman from Westminster, VT, whose family hit hard times—she moved from job to job. She couldn’t afford continuous health coverage until the Affordable Care Act offered her a quality plan she could keep. Now, we are talking about throwing her off.

Other young Vermonters are able to pursue careers in public service or the arts because they can stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Countless others have underscored that because of previous health issues, such as diabetes or cancer, health coverage would otherwise be unaffordable.

It would be a vicious cycle. They had a disease, but they couldn’t afford to do anything about it, and they would go into greater debt. Now, even though they have a preexisting condition, they have guarantees and subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act so they can have health coverage, instead of health coverage being unaffordable.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have gone to new lengths to repeat and prolong this political battle. And that is all this is. They have had 6 years to propose a better alternative. Instead, congressional Republicans and the President-elect have decided to put the cart before the horse. They want to dismantle our health care system, and they don’t want to figure out how to fix it. They just want to figure out how to get rid of it. And, by the way, they say somebody is going to come up with a bright idea for something better.

The American people rightly expect us to work together and make progress on the many challenges that we face today. Instead, we are engaging in dangerous political gamesmanship that will not affect Members of the Congress, but the millions of families we represent throughout this country because they will not have health insurance, and their children will not have health insurance. Just think what this is eventually going to cost Americans—a lot more than we pay now.

I will not support a return to less protection, less coverage, less fairness, and higher costs because that is what a repeal means. The Affordable Care Act extended health insurance to millions of families, not only in Vermont, but across the country. Those who represent the American people in Congress should stand ready to get to work for their constituents. Not to make their constituents sick, but to give them a program that works.

I will not support an effort to reverse the many reforms and achievements we have made through the Affordable Care Act and instead cobble back together a broken system that for too long burdened most American households with health coverage uncertainty and crippling costs.

I am not going to go and tell Vermonters: Too bad that you have cancer. Tough. We just fixed it so you can’t have insurance. Too bad that you have diabetes. We just fixed it so you can’t get insurance. Too bad that your child was born with a physical defect. Too bad. We just fixed it so you can’t get insurance. Or to the person who just lost a job who doesn’t have insurance: Too bad that you are without health insurance. Better pray you don’t get sick because, if you do, you will lose a lot more than your job.

No, I can’t look Vermonters in the eye and say that is what I support.

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