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HEALTH CARE: Murray Urges Colleagues to Focus on Helping Families, Not on Number of Pages in Bill

Dec 17 2009

Murray tells story of WA woman's struggles under the current system, explains how reform plan will help her and those in similar situations

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray made a speech on the floor of the Senate highlighting the benefits of the comprehensive Senate health insurance reform bill to Washington state families and small business owners. Murray recounted a story told to her by Doreen Kelsey from Spokane, to demonstrate to her colleagues the urgent need for health insurance reform that will bring families stable, affordable health insurance coverage.

Senator Muray discussed the problems that Doreen and her family have encountered with the current health care system, and then detailed the ways that the reform plan would help Doreen, her family, and the millions of Americans facing similar struggles.

During her speech, Senator Murray displayed a picture of Doreen standing behind a stack of appeals, letters, forms, and denials she received from her insurance company. Murray told her colleagues that these are the number of pages they should be concerned with, not how many are in the bill.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s speech:

“I come to the floor today on behalf of small business owners, parents, senior citizens, those with pre-existing conditions, those with insurance whose premiums are skyrocketing, and those without insurance who spend their nights praying they don’t get into an accident or fall ill.”

“I have watched day after day after day as our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have come down to this floor. They’ve made outrageous claims. They’ve hauled out reams of paper – and stacked copies of the Senate bill on top of copies of the House bill to try and turn a serious debate into a sideshow. But if my colleagues on the other side want to focus on pages?  Fine, let’s focus on pages.”

“Behind me is a photo of Doreen Kelsey.  And in front of Doreen is a stack of papers. Those are hundreds upon hundreds of pages of forms, rejection letters, appeals and denials from her insurance company”

“I ask you and our colleagues on the other side to take a look at this photo of Doreen sitting next to hundreds of pages of correspondence and appeals and fights with her insurance company. Those are the pages we should be talking about.”

“So whenever my colleagues come down and complain about the number of pages in a health reform bill that helps families and businesses lower costs, I want them to think about the number of pages right here – pages that have caused the Kelseys unimaginable heartache – and have come between them and the health care they have paid for.”

“Now is the time to end the politics, end the partisanship end the obstruction, and come together to focus on what is important and bring families and businesses the insurance reform they have been asking for.”

The full text of Senator Murray’s speech follows:

“Mr. President, I come to the floor today on behalf of over ten thousand constituents from my home state of Washington who have sent me letters and emails over the past six months to tell me their stories and struggles with our health care system. And I come to the floor today on behalf of the thousands more who don’t have the time or resources to write to me and ask for help – but who are struggling as well.

“Mr. President – I come to the floor today on behalf of small business owners, parents, senior citizens, those with pre-existing conditions, those with insurance whose premiums are skyrocketing, and those without insurance who spend their nights praying they don’t get into an accident or fall ill.

“Mr. President these are people who are worried about keeping their jobs or making a mortgage payment, and for whom the cost of getting sick, being dropped from their plan or opening their mail to see yet another premium increase is just too much to bear. And Mr. President, those are the people who deserve a real debate – and a real plan – not distortions or silly distractions like conversations about how many pages are in this health care bill. What’s more important than the number of pages is the help within those pages – for businesses and families across the country.

“Mr. President I have watched day after day after day as our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have come down to this floor. They’ve made outrageous claims. They’ve hauled out reams of paper – and stacked copies of the Senate bill on top of copies of the House bill to try and turn a serious debate into a sideshow.

“But if my colleagues on the other side want to focus on pages?  Fine, let’s focus on pages.

“Mr. President, behind me is a photo of Doreen Kelsey.  And in front of Doreen is a stack of papers. Those are hundreds upon hundreds of pages of forms, rejection letters, appeals and denials from her insurance company.

“Pages that have taken hours and hours to fill out and that have stood between Doreen’s husband, and the care he desperately needed.

“I met Doreen at a roundtable I hosted in August in Spokane, Washington.  Doreen is self-employed and isn’t able to purchase her own health insurance due to a pre-existing condition.  Luckily, she and her family have health insurance coverage through her husband Tony’s employer. 

“Doreen and Tony thought their family had good insurance coverage – but when he asked for a colonoscopy they soon discovered the lengths to which insurance companies will go to deny, delay, and dispute the care that families, like the Kelseys, assume are included in their coverage.

“Their insurance carrier told them that before they would pay for this preventative care it would have to be approved by a primary care physician.

“After being delayed for a month because of this requirement, the colonoscopy ultimately confirmed their fears – a diagnosis of stage four colon cancer.

“Diagnosis in hand, the Kelseys were determined to beat this terrible disease together, but rather than focusing on fighting cancer - they were forced to fight their insurance company.

“Doreen told me that although they had faithfully paid their premiums throughout their working lives, now that Tony desperately needed life-saving treatment, it was a constant struggle to get the company to pay for even routine care.

“They weren’t asking for anything new – or experimental – just the kind of care that a lifetime of paid premiums should entitle them to.

“The Kelseys assumed what most Americans with good health insurance coverage assume – that while their insurance may be expensive, it will be there for them when they need it.

“Mr. President, Doreen and her family – like many American families and businesses – have come to find out that in our current health insurance system, stability is sometimes nothing more than an illusion.

“With each procedure, the Kelseys faced a new fight. More paperwork, another appeal.

“At one point, Doreen told me that she had to appeal all the way to the State Insurance Regulator just to get a corrected ‘Explanation of Benefits’ form from her insurance company. And they had to borrow thousands of dollars to pay doctors while their claims were tied up in what seemed like an endless appeals process.

“The Kelsey’s insurance now costs more than their mortgage.  And they constantly worry that Tony’s employer could drop the coverage.

“Thankfully, Tony has been successfully battling his cancer. And Doreen has been successfully battling the insurance company.  But this isn’t how the system should work.  And when we pass the bill we are debating today – it won’t be.

“So, let me tell you – and the Kelseys – how this bill will help them.

“First of all, our bill ends insurance company discrimination for pre-existing conditions – so Doreen would be able to purchase insurance on her own and wouldn’t have to depend on her husband’s employer.

“Doreen would also have access to a number of different plans through an Exchange where insurance companies would compete for her family’s business. Our plan would inject competition into the insurance market, lower costs, and give families like Doreen’s more choices.

“Our plan also makes it illegal for insurance companies to drop people when they get sick – so Doreen and Tony wouldn’t have to worry about losing their coverage at the moment they need it most. And since we know that preventive care is critical to saving lives – and saving money on health care costs long-term – our bill ensures free preventive services under all insurance plans.

“It also invests in prevention and public health to encourage innovations in health care that prevent illness and disease before they require more costly treatment. This would have allowed Tony to get a colonoscopy when he first needed it and allowed him to start treatment sooner. 

“We also know that families deserve the security and stability of knowing that if they or a loved one gets sick, they won’t be forced into bankruptcy paying for the costs.

“Our bill restricts the arbitrary limits that insurance companies currently place on the amount of coverage that families receive.

“It caps the total amount that insurance companies can make people pay out-of-pocket on co-pays and deductibles. And it eliminates the lifetime limits insurance companies can impose on coverage.

“In addition to putting in place these consumer protections that will give families the stability and security they deserve – our bill also lowers the cost of care so that Americans like Tony and Doreen won’t have coverage that costs as much as their mortgage.

“We do this by putting place premium rate reviews to track increases and cracking down on excessive insurance company overhead costs.

“When our bill passes, insurance companies will no longer be able to hike up Doreen’s premiums to pay for a bureaucracy that they will then put to work battling her claims. And we provide sliding scale premium tax credits for families who still can’t afford coverage – which would help 450,000 Washington state residents purchase the coverage they need.

“Mr. President, the bill before us today – which my colleagues have sitting on their desks – will help families like the Kelseys.

“Rather than talking about the number of pages in the bill – I hope our colleagues on the other side actually read it and talk about what’s in it. 

“Because right now – instead of debating the merits of bringing down costs, or protecting families from losing their coverage when they get sick, our colleagues are actually spending time complaining that this bill has too many pages.

“Mr. President, I ask you and our colleagues on the other side to take a look at this photo of Doreen sitting next to hundreds of pages of correspondence and appeals and fights with her insurance company.

“Those are the pages we should be talking about.   And the Kelseys are the people we should be talking about. 

“So whenever my colleagues come down and complain about the number of pages in a health reform bill that helps families and businesses lower costs, I want them to think about the number of pages right here – pages that have caused the Kelseys unimaginable heartache – and have come between them and the health care they have paid for. Those are the numbers we should be focusing on.

“The fourteen thousand who are losing coverage every day are the numbers we should be focusing on.

“The fifty-one million who have no insurance are the numbers we should be focusing on.

“Not the numbers of pages in this bill.

“Mr. President, now is the time to end the politics, end the partisanship end the obstruction, and come together to focus on what is important and bring families and businesses the insurance reform they have been asking for.

“Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.”