From New York Times Op-Ed: “Why The Senate Should Vote Yes On Health Care” By Vice President Joe Biden
NEW YORK TIMES
Why the Senate Should Vote Yes on Health Care
By JOE BIDEN
Published: December 20, 2009 Washington
IF I were still a United States senator, I would not only vote yes on the current health care reform bill, I would do so with the sure knowledge that I was casting one of the most historic votes of my 36 years in the Senate. I would vote yes knowing that the bill represents the culmination of a struggle begun by Theodore Roosevelt nearly a century ago to make health care reform a reality. And while it does not contain every measure President Obama and I wanted, I would vote yes for this bill certain that it includes the fundamental, essential change that opponents of reform have resisted for generations.We have been here before.
In the past, as the moment of decision drew nearer, criticism from both the left and the right grew louder. Compromises were derided. The perfect became the enemy of the good. Most recently, in 1993, Democrats had a chance to forge a compromise with Senator John Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, on a health care reform bill. Congress’s failure to pass health care reform that year led to 16 years of inaction – and 16 years of exploding health care costs and rising numbers of uninsured Americans.We can’t let that happen again.
While it is not perfect, the bill pending in the Senate today is not just good enough – it is very good. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions or drop coverage when people get sick. Charging exorbitant premiums based on sex, age or health status will be outlawed. Annual and lifetime caps on benefits will be history. Those who already have insurance will be able to keep it, and will gain peace of mind knowing they won’t be priced out of the market by skyrocketing premiums. And more than 30 million uninsured Americans will gain access to affordable health care coverage.
That is not all. President Obama and I know we have to put our fiscal house in order. This is why those who claim they oppose reform because they fear for our country’s fiscal stability should finally acknowledge what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office makes crystal clear: not only is the Senate bill paid for, it is this country’s single largest deficit-reduction measure in a dozen years. I share the frustration of other progressives that the Senate bill does not include a public option. But I’ve been around a long time, and I know that in Washington big changes never emerge in perfect form.
Those in our own party who would scuttle this bill because of what it doesn’t do seem not to appreciate the magnitude of what it has the potential to accomplish. Howard Dean was head of the Democratic Party. I respect his leadership on health care, and I understand his criticism of the bill. But it is worth noting that on some of the key health reform issues – like ensuring that Americans have access to stable, affordable coverage, and doing away with abusive practices by insurance companies – the reforms in the Senate bill would do even more than Vermont, the state he governed, has done. And they would do it for the entire country. What’s more, this bill would expand both choice and competition in an insurance market that, for many Americans, has offered far too little of either.
The issues in the health reform bill are complicated, but the consequences of failing to pass it are straightforward. Those who would vote no on this bill need to look into the eyes of Americans who don’t have health care now and tell them they’re going to be better off without this bill – better off continuing to live without health coverage. They should explain to all those Americans who are denied coverage because they have pre-existing conditions or whose insurance ran out because of lifetime caps that they don’t need this bill. And they should tell the families who have insurance and the small-business owners who provide it that the relentless rise in their premiums without this bill will somehow make them glad it didn’t pass.Is America better off today because a chance at a compromise health bill was missed in 1993?
For my friends on the left, the rising toll of the uninsured provides an emphatic no. For my friends on the right, the soaring share of federal spending on health care likewise provides a no. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
If the bill passes the Senate this week, there will be more chances to make changes to it before it becomes law. But if the bill dies this week, there is no second chance to vote yes. What those who care about health insurance reform need to realize is that unless we get 60 votes now, there will be no health care reform at all. Not this year, not in this Congress – and maybe not for another generation.
Joe Biden, a United States senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2009, is the vice president of the United States.
WEEKLY ADDRESS: President Obama Says Health Insurance Reform Will Protect Patients and Hold Insurance Companies Accountable
WASHINGTON – In his weekly address, President Obama praised the strong patient protections in the health insurance reform bills in Congress, and called on Senators to stop blocking this critical reform effort. The legislation contains many of the protections originally proposed in the bipartisan Patient’s Bill of Rights a decade ago, plus additional protections and rights; and it will reduce costs for families, strengthen Medicare, and lower the deficit.
The full audio of the address is HERE. The video can be viewed online at www.whitehouse.gov.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
December 19, 2009
Over the past few decades, there has been an intense struggle in Washington between the lobbyists for the insurance industry and the interests of the American people over what has been called a Patient’s Bill of Rights – a set of rules to protect Americans from some of the worst practices of the health insurance industry; rules to ensure that all Americans are getting the care they need from their doctors and the care they deserve from their insurance companies.
The last time a Patient’s Bill of Rights was within reach was roughly a decade ago, and it was supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, from Ted Kennedy to John McCain. It included the right to an appeals process so you could challenge an unfair decision by an insurance company before a third party. It included the right to choose your own doctor. It included the right to access information about what your health insurance plan means for you. And it called for a new level of transparency so that patients would know if their doctors had a conflict of interest when providing services.
Now, this Patient’s Bill of Rights never made it into law. It fell victim – again and again – to the same special interest lobbying that has blocked passage of health insurance reform for so many decades. But today, we are being given another chance to make it a reality, because each of these rights, and many more, are incorporated in the health insurance reform bill that recently passed the House of Representatives and in the bill that is currently making its way through the Senate.
Both the House and Senate bills would make it against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition or illness. Both would stop insurers from charging exorbitant premiums on the basis of age, health, or gender. Both would prevent insurance companies from dropping your coverage when you get sick. And both would put a limit on how much you have to pay out of pocket for the treatments you need in a year or lifetime.
Simply put, the protections currently included in both the health insurance reform bill passed by the House and the version currently on the Senate floor would represent the toughest measures we’ve ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable. Anyone who says otherwise simply hasn’t read the bills. Just open these proposals at random and you’ll find on almost any page patient protections that dwarf any of those passed by Congress in at least a decade.
These protections are just one part of a landmark reform that will finally reduce the cost of health care. When it becomes law, families will save on their premiums. Small businesses and Americans who don’t get any insurance today through their employers will no longer be forced to pay punishingly high rates to get coverage. This legislation will also strengthen Medicare and extend the life of the program, while saving senior citizens hundreds of dollars a year in prescription costs. And reforms to target waste, inefficiency, and price-gouging by the insurance industry will help make this the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade.
The insurance industry knows all this. That’s why they’re at it again, using their muscle in Washington to try to block a vote they know they will lose. They’re lobbying. They’re running ads. They’re spending millions of dollars to kill health insurance reform, just like they’ve done so many times before. They want to preserve a system that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people.
But now – for the first time – there is a clear majority in the Senate that’s willing to stand up to the insurance lobby and embrace lasting health insurance reforms that have eluded us for generations. The question is whether the minority that opposes these reforms will continue to use parliamentary maneuvers to try and stop the Senate from voting on them.
Whatever their position on health insurance reform, Senators ought to allow an up or down vote. Let’s bring this long and vigorous debate to an end. Let’s deliver on the promise of health insurance reforms that will make our people healthier, our economy stronger, and our future more secure. And as this difficult year comes to a close, let’s show the American people that we are equal to the task of meeting our great challenges.
Thanks for listening, and on behalf of Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and Bo, happy holidays, from our family to yours.