Nelson optimistic on new health care reform proposal
Key Senate panel unveils sweeping reform measure
September 16, 2009
Nelson backs Baucus bill as `starting point' , sun- sentinel news article , September 16, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A Democratic moderate on the Senate Finance Committee - which today unveiled its massive health-care reform bill - expressed optimism about the chances for passing the measure he described as “a starting point” for reform.
“There are serious issues to be resolved,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson ( D-Fla. ) said in a Wednesday morning speech on the floor of the Senate. “I believe that we are going to be able to achieve this goal of expanding affordable health care to nearly all Americans.”
Nelson delivered his optimistic assessment as the Finance Committee was releasing the long-awaited details of its proposal for greatly expanding uninsured Americans’ access to health care coverage. Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus ( D-Mont. ) said the bill was designed to lower costs and provide quality, affordable health care coverage.
And Nelson in his speech said he supports many of the bill’s central provisions, including one that lets people happy with their insurance keep it, whether they’re in an employee plan, seniors on Medicare or veterans. He also likes that the bill calls for creating a new marketplace – exchanges in the states - where those without coverage, or those who are unhappy with what they have, can get coverage at an affordable price.
“It's going to hold the insurance companies' feet to the fire to require them to cover everyone and prevent them from dropping people when they get sick,” he said.
But Nelson said he finds troubling a provision that could lead to benefit cuts for seniors who currently rely on Medicare Advantage plans, and he intends to offer an amendment that will protect, or grandfather them in. “For hundreds of thousands of seniors who didn't conceive of Medicare Advantage, but who have come to rely on it, this senator is going to offer an amendment that will shield them from those benefit cuts . . . .”
Nelson said he also intends to offer other amendments aimed at improving the bill, including one to require that drugmakers provide Medicare with substantial rebates - just like they do on their products covered by Medicaid. “It would save ( Medicare ) a ton of money,” he said.
While much of the debate surrounding health care reform has played out this summer in heated public exchanges, Nelson has kept tabs on constituent concerns in recent weeks through more low-key meetings and by monitoring some 56,000 phone calls, e-mails and letters his office has received. He asked his Senate colleagues to recall the remarks of President Kennedy in a speech on health care delivered nearly 50 years ago:
“Recall … what President Kennedy said … about 50 years ago,” Nelson asked: ‘ The consent of the citizens of this country is essential if this or any other piece of progressive legislation is going to be passed.’"
Excerpts from Bill Nelson’s remarks
Sept. 16, 2009
EVERY ONE OF US RECEIVED A LOT OF COMMENTARY ABOUT [ HEALTH CARE REFORM ] FROM OUR CONSTITUENTS. IN OUR OWN OFFICE, JUST ON THIS ISSUE, WE HAVE RECEIVED 56,000 JUST IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS, THAT WERE CALLS OR E-MAILS OR LETTERS. AND I HAPPEN TO THINK THAT THIS IS GOOD. IT'S BRINGING OUT PASSIONS. IT'S BRINGING OUT, UNFORTUNATELY, SOMETIMES HOT PASSIONS.
BUT JUST REMEMBER, GOOD DEBATE -- REMEMBER WHAT PRESIDENT LINCOLN SAID. HE SAID -- QUOTE -- "WITH PUBLIC SENTIMENT, NOTHING CAN FAIL.” HE SAYS “WITHOUT IT NOTHING CAN SUCCEED.” AND HE WAS SPECIFICALLY TALKING ABOUT THE WAY WE DO GOVERNMENT AND THE WAY WE MAKE LAW IN THIS COUNTRY.
AND RECALL ALSO WHAT PRESIDENT KENNEDY SAID, AND THAT WAS ABOUT 50 YEARS.
AND HE SAID SPECIFICALLY ABOUT HEALTH CARE. HE SAID -- QUOTE -- "THE CONSENT OF THE CITIZENS OF THIS COUNTRY IS ESSENTIAL IF THIS OR ANY OTHER PIECE OF PROGRESSIVE LEGISLATION IS GOING TO BE PASSED." END OF QUOTE. AND HE WAS SPECIFICALLY TALKING ABOUT HEALTH CARE.
SO, MR. PRESIDENT, EVERY ONE OF US SENATORS CAN SAY FROM THE PERSONAL MEETINGS, THE CALLS, THE LETTERS, THE E-MAILS, WE CAN TELL YOU THAT THERE ARE A LOT OF FOLKS OUT THERE THAT DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE OR, IN MANY CASES, TO QUALITY HEALTH CARE. AND WE CAN TELL YOU THE STORIES THAT WE'VE HEARD ABOUT PEOPLE BEING SYSTEMATICALLY EXCLUDED BY SOME OF THE NATION'S MAJOR MANAGED CARE INSURANCE COMPANIES AND/OR JUST INSURANCE COMPANIES.
AND, UNFORTUNATELY, THOSE ARE NOT RARE CASES.
BUT THAT'S WHY WE'RE HERE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
NOW, REGARDLESS OF WHERE YOU STAND ON THE SPECIFICS OF THE ISSUE, I THINK THAT WE CAN AGREE THAT THE CURRENT SYSTEM, IF CONTINUED, WOULD BE UNFAIR, TOO COSTLY, AND AS A RESULT IT NEEDS TO BE FIXED. AND IT AFFECTS EVERY ONE OF US.
IT'S ALSO A TRUTH THAT SOONER OR LATER EVERY AMERICAN -- NINE OUT OF TEN OF US IS GOING TO END UP IN THE HOSPITAL AT SOME POINT.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
ALL RIGHT, I THINK THE PRESIDENT LAID DOWN A GOOD MARKER. HIS SPEECH BEFORE THE JOINT SESSION WAS EXCELLENT. HE GAVE SOME CLEAR ANSWERS ABOUT HIS VIEWS ON REFORM. IT'S TRUE, HE'S BEEN MORE HANDS OFF, LET IT BE DONE BY THE SENATE AND THE HOUSE.
BUT, INTERESTINGLY, WHEN HE GOT MORE SPECIFIC, AS HE DID IN HIS SPEECH TO THE JOINT SESSION, HE DESCRIBED OR TRACKED PRETTY CLOSE TO WHAT'S COMING OUT IN SENATOR BAUCUS'S MARK THAT THE FINANCE COMMITTEE IS GOING TO TAKE UP NEXT WEEK.
THIS LEGISLATION IS GOING TO LET FOLKS THAT ARE HAPPY WITH THEIR INSURANCE KEEP IT, INCLUDING OUR SENIOR CITIZENS WHO ARE ON MEDICARE, AND OUR VETERANS WHO HAVE THEIR HEALTH CARE.
BUT IT'S ALSO GOING TO CREATE A MARKETPLACE, A MARKETPLACE CALLED THE HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE, FOR THOSE WHO DON'T HAVE INSURANCE.
THOSE WHO ARE UNHAPPY WITH THEIR COVERAGE CAN GO GET IT AT AN AFFORDABLE PRICE.
IT'S GOING TO HOLD THE INSURANCE COMPANIES' FEET TO THE FIRE TO REQUIRE THEM TO COVER EVERYONE AND PREVENT THEM FROM DROPPING PEOPLE WHEN THEY GET SICK.
IT'S GOING TO CONTAIN SEVERAL ADDITIONAL MEASURES AIMED AT REDUCING OVERALL AND PRESCRIPTION DRUG COSTS.
AND IT'S GOING TO GO RIGHT AT THE WASTE AND THE FRAUD IN THE SYSTEM.
NOW, THIS IS A STARTING POINT, MR. PRESIDENT. THIS ISN'T THE END ALL AND BE ALL. THIS IS A STARTING POINT.
NOW, THERE ARE SOME CONCERNS THAT I WANT TO SHARE WITH THE SENATE THOSE WHO ARE ON MEDICARE, WHO GENERALLY ARE VERY FAVORABLE OF THEIR MEDICARE COVERAGE -- THAT'S CERTAINLY A CONCERN OF THIS SENATOR, WHO HAS A SUBSTANTIAL POPULATION IN MY STATE OF FLORIDA OF SENIOR CITIZENS ON MEDICARE -- THAT THEY NOT HAVE SOMETHING TAKEN AWAY FROM THEM THAT THEY HAVE COME TO EXPECT AND TO RELY ON IN MEDICARE. AND THAT PARTICULARLY IS SO WITH REGARD TO A PROGRAM CALLED "MEDICARE ADVANTAGE" WHICH IS A FANCY TERM FOR A MEDICARE H.M.O., A HEALTH MAINTENANCE ORGANIZATION.
I THINK IT WOULD BE INTOLERABLE TO ASK THE SENIOR CITIZENS ON MEDICARE WHO HAVE IT TO GIVE UP SUBSTANTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS THAT THEY'RE ENJOYING UNDER MEDICARE. FOR HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF SENIORS WHO DIDN'T CONCEIVE OF MEDICARE ADVANTAGE BUT WHO HAVE COME TO RELY ON IT, THIS SENATOR IS GOING TO OFFER AN AMENDMENT THAT WILL SHIELD THEM FROM THOSE BENEFIT CUTS ON EXISTING SENIOR CITIZENS ON MEDICARE. I DON'T THINK THAT WE CAN PUNISH SENIOR CITIZENS WHO SIGNED UP. AND IF THE CHANGES NEED TO BE MADE FOR THE FUTURE SOLVENCY OF MEDICARE, THEN THE SENIOR CITIZENS CURRENTLY WITH MEDICARE ADVANTAGE SHOULD BE GRANDFATHERED IN, AND THAT'S WHAT MY AMENDMENT IS GOING TO BE. IT'S GOING TO SAY THAT ON THE DATE OF THE BILL, ONCE IT'S SIGNED INTO LAW, THAT THOSE WHO HAVE THAT BENEFIT SHOULD NOT HAVE IT TAKEN AWAY.
ANOTHER AMENDMENT WOULD REQUIRE THE PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES TO PROVIDE REBATES TO MEDICARE, JUST LIKE THEY'VE BEEN DOING FOR YEARS -- FOR DECADES TO MEDICAID. MEDICAID HAS ROUGHLY 49 MILLION PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY. WE GIVE BIG DISCOUNTS BECAUSE OF BUYING FOR 49 MILLION MEDICAID RECIPIENTS. THE DRUG COMPANIES GIVE THOSE DISCOUNTS BACK IN THE FORM OF A REBATE TO THE GOVERNMENTS, THE FEDERAL AND STATE GOVERNMENTS.
WHY SHOULDN'T THEY DO THAT WITH REGARD TO THE 44 MILLION MEDICARE RECIPIENTS? IF IT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR MEDICAID AND IT MAKES DRUGS A LOT CHEAPER, WHY NOT DO IT FOR MEDICARE RECIPIENTS?
AND, BY THE WAY, IT WOULD SAVE MEDICARE A TON OF MONEY.
THERE ARE SERIOUS ISSUES TO BE RESOLVED. THIS SENATOR IS OPTIMISTIC, AND I BELIEVE THAT WE ARE GOING TO BE ABLE TO ACHIEVE THIS GOAL OF EXPANDING AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE TO NEARLY ALL AMERICANS.
WE MUST DO SO WITHOUT RAISING TAXES ON THE MIDDLE CLASS OR UPENDING THEIR COVERAGE. AND WE MUST DO SO WITHOUT LOWERING THE QUALITY OF HEALTH CARE FOR ANY AMERICAN, INCLUDING OUR SENIOR CITIZENS.
I AM, BY NATURE, MR. PRESIDENT, AN OPTIMIST. AND IN THE MIDST OF EVERYTHING THAT'S WRONG ABOUT THIS HEALTH CARE BILL, I REMAIN AN OPTIMIST.
AND THE MOMENT OF TRUTH IS WHEN WE CAST THAT VOTE YEA OR NAY. MR. PRESIDENT, I YIELD THE FLOOR, AND I SUGGEST THE ABSENCE OF A QUORUM.