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Healthcare Fairness

Sen. Ben Nelson

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Madam President, I rise today to speak about legislation that I believe is very important for the future of health care fairness in our country.

Yesterday, I introduced the Savings Through Eligibility Fairness Act, which addresses Medicaid fairness and debt reduction. My friend and colleague from Wyoming, the ranking member of the HELP Committee, Senator Enzi, has a shared interest in this issue, and I commend and appreciate his offering of similar legislation and offer to continue to work with him to deal with and find solutions to this issue.

Medicaid is an important safety net for Nebraska and our country's most vulnerable families. I am committed to making sure they will continue receiving health care coverage. Unfortunately, the health care reform law passed last year would inadvertently make some middle-class Americans eligible for Medicaid who should not be eligible for Medicaid. My bill changes the law to ensure that only the neediest Nebraskans and Americans would qualify for the Medicaid expansion and health exchange subsidies created by the health reform law.

This simple, reasonable change has a significant impact: It saves $13 billion. Let me repeat that--$13 billion worth of savings. My bill commits that $13 billion will be used to pay down the national deficit. As Washington debates various debt-reduction plans, my bill offers one concrete, commonsense way to reduce the national debt by $13 billion. We hear a lot of different ideas but not with the same level of concrete, commonsense approach.

I regularly hear from Nebraskans who are already benefiting from the new health care law--children remaining on their parents' coverage, seniors closing the doughnut hole, and young people no longer being denied coverage because of preexisting conditions. Those are Nebraskans who are already benefiting from the new health care law. So improvements such as the one I have proposed will save money and help reduce the national debt, while still protecting health care for Nebraska and American families.

In the current debate of how best to reduce spending and reduce our Nation's deficit, I believe Congress should start with this commonsense approach. It will maintain sensible eligibility requirements for the Medicaid expansion and health exchange subsidies rather than focusing on shifting costs to States, providers, and the people who rely on this most important program.

Right now, most States do include Social Security income when deciding who will be eligible for Medicaid. So my legislation will maintain that definition for establishing eligibility for both Medicaid and health exchange subsidies. Keeping this same definition consistently will ensure Medicaid will not start down the path of covering middle-income families, which has never been the purpose of this program, nor should it be. Rather, Medicaid is part of a critical safety net for the most vulnerable and the most in need.

Let me point out an important fact. Those who would no longer qualify for the Medicaid expansion would still be eligible to receive health insurance coverage through the State health insurance exchange and subsidies where appropriate. So they will receive the health care they need. As a result, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the savings through the Eligibility Fairness Act will have a negligible effect on the total number of individuals projected to be insured as a result of health care reform.

Let me conclude and summarize by saying that Medicaid is an important health safety net for Nebraska and America's most vulnerable citizens. I am committed to preserving this program for more than 200,000 Nebraskans out of 1.85 million who include children, seniors, pregnant mothers, and the disabled. I am committed to maintaining this coverage for these Nebraskans in this fashion.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The clerk will call the roll.

The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Sen. Jeff Merkley

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Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

Without objection, it is so ordered.

Sen. Jeff Merkley

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I ask unanimous consent to speak as in morning business for up to 10 minutes.

Without objection, it is so ordered.