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Health Care

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

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Let me first congratulate Chairman Harkin for his remarks today but more than that the work that has preceded today on the health care bill. He was an ardent advocate for the prevention programs that save lives and money. It was a real pleasure to work with him at that time.

Today is the second anniversary of the passage of the affordable care act. I wish to describe how the law is already making a difference for families in Rhode Island and across the country by drastically improving access to higher quality care, by addressing rising health care costs, and by protecting consumers.

Look at the changes. Children with preexisting conditions were denied coverage--no longer. Lifetime limits on insurance policies left many American families struggling to pay medial care bills on their own--no longer. Insurers could cancel coverage for individuals who became sick--no longer.

In addition, the law helps kids just out of school who all too often cannot get that first job with health insurance. It helps them to stay on their parents' insurance policies until age 26. For seniors, prescription drug costs are down as the Medicare doughnut hole begins to close. This is real change, and it hits home in my home State of Rhode Island. I hear from Rhode Islanders and I listen.

I heard from Greg, a father in Providence, who told me about his 16-year-old son Will. Will spends 2 hours every day undergoing treatment to keep his cystic fibrosis in check. In addition to his daily treatment and prescriptions, Will sees a specialist four times a year to monitor the disease. Greg said he often thinks about his son Will's future and whether his son will be able to maintain health insurance coverage and receive the treatment he needs.

Thanks to the affordable care act, Will does not have to worry about insurance companies denying him coverage because he has a preexisting condition or fear that he will have to go without treatment because his medical bills will have pushed him over some arbitrary lifetime limit.

As many as 374,000 Rhode Islanders, including 89,000 children similar to Will, can now receive the treatments they need free from lifetime limits on coverage. People who want to repeal ObamaCare should be ready to look Greg in the eye and tell him why they want to take that away from him and his son.

Olive, a senior from Woonsocket, shared with me that her husband takes several medicines to help treat his Alzheimer's disease. A 3-month supply for two of his medications costs close to $1,000. As Olive said: Those months go by quickly. Last year, Olive and her husband fell into the prescription drug doughnut hole in July. Without the affordable care act, they would have been responsible for paying the full cost of his medications out of pocket, but because of health care reform, Olive and her husband received a discount on their prescription drugs and saved $2,400 last year.

Olive and her husband are 2 of the over 14,800 Rhode Islanders who received a 50-percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs when they hit the doughnut hole. This discount resulted in an average savings of over $550 per person, for a total savings of more than $8.2 million for seniors in Rhode Island alone.

People who want to repeal ObamaCare should be ready to look Olive in the eye and tell her why that $8.2 million should go back into the drug companies' pockets, why she and her husband should have to cough up an extra $2,400 for the drug companies.

Brianne, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Rhode Island, currently works part time as a physical therapy aid in Providence. Her job does not offer health insurance. Brianne suffers from several seasonal and food allergies. She makes frequent trips to her allergist. Because of the affordable care act, Brianne can stay on her mother's health insurance so she can continue to get the treatment she needs. Without this coverage, Brianne said, she would be hard-pressed to afford the treatments necessary to address her allergies.

As of June of last year, Brianne was 1 of over 7,500 young adults in Rhode Island who gained insurance coverage as a result of the reform law. People who want to repeal ObamaCare need to explain to Brianne why she and those other 7,500 Rhode Island kids should be kicked off their parents' policy.

The affordable care act has also brought needed relief to employers that are still the leading source of health coverage in the United States. Geoff is a small business owner in Providence. He provides health care insurance for his employees because, as he said, ``It's the right thing to do.'' But the rising costs of his employees' health insurance have placed increased pressure on his business. Geoff's business qualified for the health care law's small business health care tax credit, which covers up to 35 percent of premiums paid by a small business owners for its employees' coverage. These credits are a lifeline for small businesses that are struggling in today's difficult economy and for the people those small businesses employ. People who want to repeal ObamaCare need to look Geoff in the eye and tell him why they want to take away that tax credit lifeline that lets him provide coverage for his employees.

The affordable care act also provided support for community health centers. In Rhode Island, similar to elsewhere in the country, community health centers fill a critical gap in our health care system, delivering comprehensive, preventive, and primary care to patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

Dennis Roy is the CEO of the East Bay Community Action Program in Rhode Island. He tells me the affordable care act has provided critical support for his community health center's mission. East Bay has received $3 million through this law to construct a new community health center in Newport which, despite its international reputation, is one of Rhode Island's poorer cities. The new community health center will triple the available patient care space for needy Newport County residents.

To date, Rhode Island community health centers have received $14.8 million to create new health center sites in medically underserved areas. This is important American infrastructure, and we should not tear it down to make a political point or to assuage a political ideology. These stories are just a few of many that show how the affordable care act is working for Rhode Island families, seniors, and small businesses.

Although we have made great progress, the work continues. Over the last 2 years, a tremendous effort has been made by the health care industry, by State and local leaders, and by the Obama administration to develop a better model of health care delivery, to shift from a system that is disorganized and fragmented to one that is coordinated, is efficient, and delivers the high-quality care Americans deserve.

Private health care providers, such as Geisinger, Intermountain, and the Marshfield Clinic, are already focusing on quality rather than quantity, efficiency rather than volume, to better serve their patients and their bottom line. Because of the affordable care act, the Federal Government now has the opportunity to support and encourage their focus and to deliver much needed savings in the most patient-centered way, by improving the quality of care and health outcomes.

There is tremendous potential for improved care and cost savings in five key areas: payment reform, primary and preventive care, measuring and reporting quality, administrative simplification, and health information technology.

Savings, from a range of responsible viewpoints, run from $700 billion to $1 trillion a year, all without compromising the quality of care Americans have come to expect--indeed, likely improving the quality of care.

I will shortly release a report to Chairman Harkin and the HELP Committee on the Obama administration's implementation of the delivery system reform provisions of the affordable care act. When I say ``delivery system reform,'' I mean those provisions that improve the quality of care, avoid medical errors, coordinate care better, reward prevention and primary care, reduce administrative overhead, and reward who gets the best health outcomes, not who orders the most treatment procedures.

I worked with Senator Mikulski on this project. She authored the key delivery provisions of the law and has great expertise in this area.

These changes will make a real difference for millions of Americans, and I look forward to sharing the report and its findings with my colleagues next week.

Before I close, I would like to acknowledge Rhode Island's work on a State health insurance exchange provided for by the affordable care act. Rhode Island is leading the way as the first State to receive level two grant funding to set up the exchange. The exchanges are commonsense, local, competitive marketplaces where individuals and small businesses will be able to purchase health insurance, with the prices and benefits out there on display. When insurance companies compete for your business on a transparent, level playing field, it will drive down costs. Exchanges will let individuals and small businesses use their purchasing power to drive down costs, much like big businesses are able to do.

Progress has been made by State leaders such as our Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts, who is leading this effort to get to this point. They are remarkable. I urge them to keep up the good work.

Whether it is changing the lives of Gregg and Will or Olive or Brianne or Geoff and his employees or whether it is building our community health center infrastructure or supporting the private sector leaders who are pivoting to a new and better and more efficient delivery system or whether it is something as simple as a marketplace for health insurance that is open, fair, and on the level, the affordable care act has made a real difference for hard-working families in Rhode Island. I will continue to work hard alongside these leading health care providers, alongside the Obama administration, and alongside my colleagues in the Congress to see the full promise of the affordable care act realized for this great Nation's advantage.

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

The clerk will call the roll.

The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi

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

Without objection, it is so ordered.