News Releases

Healthcare: Senator Murray Warns that S.1955 Will Hurt Patients, Small Businesses; Calls for Real Solutions

May 09 2006

Murray Calls on Senate to Extend the Medicare Drug Deadline, Lift the Ban on Stem Cell Research and Invest in Community Healthcare

(Washington D.C.) -- U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) today spoke out against the Republican sponsored "Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act" (S. 1955) on the floor of the United States Senate.



Murray said the bill, which is opposed by 41 state Attorneys General, the Washington State Medical Association and Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire, will eliminate critical patient protections, encourage insurance companies to charge higher premiums for some consumers, and will fail to reduce healthcare costs.



Murray said that the Senate should not be wasting time on a flawed proposal but should address real solutions like extending the May 15th deadline for the Medicare Part D drug program, passing legislation to lift the ban on stem cell research, and investing in community healthcare efforts.

"Simply put, this proposal is a distraction," said Senator Murray. "Instead of dealing with real solutions to real problems, the Republican leadership is wasting time on one narrow proposal that will make things worse. We can do better, and the truth is that patients, seniors, doctors, nurses and our communities all deserve better."


Senator Murray supports allowing businesses to pool the risk of insuring employees in order to reduce healthcare costs. However, the Republican proposal eliminates critical protections that help keep patients healthy and keep costs down.



In her floor speech, Murray cited a new report by Families USA which found that if S.1955 passes more than 1,861,000 Washington state residents could lose access to emergency services, home healthcare, drug and alcohol treatment, contraceptives, diabetic supplies and education, hospice Care, mammography screening, maternity services, mental healthcare, and many other services.

"I'm not going to tell nearly 2 million people I represent that we're going to take a gamble and risk losing those hard-won protections for a plan that will likely raise the cost of healthcare for many families and small businesses," Murray said.





Murray also said S.1955 would result in higher insurance premiums for some patients. Insurers would be allowed to charge patients different rates based on their health, age, gender, or geography.

"Rates will likely become unaffordable for those who need it the most, potentially increasing the number of uninsured Americans," Murray said.


Senator Murray also shared with the Senate letters she has received from both Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and the 9,000 member Washington Medical Association. Both letters detailed how S. 1955 would negatively affect gains Washington state has made in health care quality, and would drive up the cost of health care to the consumer.



Murray noted that she does support efforts to pool health insurance risk to reduce costs while still protecting patients.

"We can help spread the risk in ways that will lower costs and still protect patients, but the legislation before us could raise costs for consumers and small businesses. We can do better," Murray said.


Murray said that the Senate should be spending its time on measures that would actually help families and businesses improve healthcare and lower costs. She pointed to three challenges – the looming May 15th Medicare deadline, the Senate's failure to pass legislation allowing stem cell research, and recent cuts to community healthcare.

Medicare Deadline



Speaking to the looming May 15th deadline that faces our nation's seniors, Senator Murray said:

"I've been traveling throughout my home state of Washington meeting with seniors and holding roundtables with patients, pharmacists, and advocates. If we were serious about improving healthcare, we'd be fixing the problems they've outlined. Instead, we're going to let an unfair deadline hurt seniors even further. In six days, they will have to pick a plan or face higher penalties whenever they do enroll. And the penalties grow the longer they wait. To me, that's just not fair."


Stem Cell Research



Murray said the Senate should lift restrictions on promising research. The House passed legislation a year ago, but the Senate has not acted.

"Every delay means missed opportunities for patients with devastating diseases. If the Senate is serious about advancing healthcare and saving lives, we should be voting on stem cell legislation today."


Community Healthcare



Senator Murray also said that if the Senate Leadership were serious about improving healthcare, they would work to expand community healthcare efforts. Murray cited the Healthy Community Access Program (HCAP), which the Bush Administration eliminated last year, as an example of misplaced priorities.

"If we were serious about improving healthcare, we'd be investing in local programs that make a difference, but instead the Republican leadership is focused on distractions. We can do better," Murray said.


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The full text of the Senator's remarks on the Senate floor follow:



Mr. President, at this hour families are struggling with healthcare, seniors are facing a critical deadline for drug coverage, businesses are grappling with the high cost of insurance, and patients are being denied the cutting edge research that could save their lives.



Those are critical issues and what is the Senate doing? We're dealing with a distraction – instead of real solutions to make healthcare more affordable, more accessible, and more innovative.



I'm on the floor today to talk about what we should be doing to help families, businesses and communities meet their healthcare needs. I also want to explain why the Republican proposal S.1955 could do more harm than good.



This bill takes a good idea – pooling the risk in health insurance – and distorts it with a plan that will raise the cost of healthcare, strip away patient protections, and hurt many small businesses.



But don't take my word for it. Attorneys General from 41 states –including my own-- have written to outline the serious problems with the Republican bill. I've heard from doctors with the Washington State Medical Association and from my own governor about the damage that this bill would inflict on patients and our economy.



Simply put, this proposal is a distraction. Instead of dealing with real solutions to real problems, the Republican leadership is wasting time on one narrow proposal that will make things worse. We can do better, and the truth is that patients, seniors, doctors, nurses and our communities all deserve better.



If we were serious about helping reduce the cost of healthcare, helping improve access, and driving innovation, we would be talking about the critical issues the Republican leadership is trying to avoid. We should be focusing on everything from the Medicare drug program to stem cell research and community healthcare. And we don't have a day to waste.

Medicare Part D



On Monday, millions of seniors and disabled will be hit with a deadline that means higher premiums for prescription drugs. That May 15th deadline is just 6 days away. I am hearing from seniors that they're worried about the deadline, they're worried about picking the wrong plan, and they don't think it's fair to be punished if they need more time to make an informed choice.



I've been traveling throughout my home state of Washington meeting with seniors and holding roundtables with patients, pharmacists, and advocates. Three weeks ago, I was in Chehalis at the Twin Cities Senior Center, and I can tell you – seniors are worried about the May 15th deadline. And that's just one of the many problems with this flawed drug program.



The week before that I was in Silverdale. I've held Medicare roundtables in Kent, Vancouver, Ballard, Shelton, Spokane, Anacortes, Bellevue, Aberdeen, Olympia, Lakewood, Seattle and Everett.



I've heard from seniors just how bad the Medicare Part D program is. I've heard their frustration about dealing with such a confusing system. I've heard their anger that the program does not meet their needs. And I've heard many who just want to throw their hands up and ignore the whole program.



If we were serious about improving healthcare, we'd be fixing the problems they've outlined. Instead, we're going to let an unfair deadline hurt seniors even further. In six days, they will have to pick a plan or face higher penalties whenever they do enroll. And the penalties grow the longer they wait. To me, that's just not fair.



Right now, the Senate could be extending the deadline so seniors are not pressured into making the wrong choice in such a complicated system. Right now, we could be lifting the penalty so that seniors are not punished if they need more time to make the right choice. Right now, we could be providing help to the millions of vulnerable Americans who have been mistreated by this flawed Republican plan.



But instead, this Congress is leaving seniors to fend for themselves. The Secretary of Health and Human Services has said he opposes extending the deadline or lifting the penalties – and this Republican Congress seems to agree with him by a shameful lack of action. Seniors deserve better, the disabled deserve better, and our most vulnerable neighbors deserve better.



If we really wanted to make healthcare more affordable, accessible and innovative, we would be fixing the Medicare drug program and helping seniors who are facing that unfair deadline.

Stem Cell Research

That's just one example of what a real focus on healthcare would include. If we were serious about helping patients, we would be expanding life saving research.



For patients living with diseases such as Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer's, and Diabetes, stem cell research holds the potential to help us understand, treat, and someday cure, these devastating diseases. Nearly a year ago, the House of Representatives passed legislation to lift the restrictions that hold back this promising research. The House of Representatives has acted – but for a year the Senate has not.



My colleagues, Senators Specter and Harkin, are well known for their leadership in this fight. They were promised a vote on stem cell research. That vote still has not taken place. Every delay means missed opportunities for patients with devastating diseases. If the Senate is serious about advancing healthcare and saving lives, we should be voting on stem cell legislation today. That's why last week I joined with 39 other Senators in writing to the Majority Leader urging him to bring up HR 810 – the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. But instead of real solutions, the Senate is focusing on a distraction. Patients with life threatening diseases deserve better.



Community Healthcare



Mr. President, if we were serious about improving healthcare, we'd be investing in local efforts that boost access to healthcare.



Two weeks ago, through the Johnson and Johnson Community Healthcare Awards, I had a chance to honor leaders from across the country who are doing innovative work to break down barriers to care. If we're serious about improving healthcare, we would be building more federal support for their work. Instead, we're moving in the opposite direction.



Perhaps the best in example is the Bush Administration's 5-year effort to kill the Healthy Communities Access Program (HCAP). This program helps local organizations coordinate care for the uninsured, and it's made a tremendous difference in my home state.



Every year since taking office, the Bush Administration has tried to kill this successful program. I've led the fight for our local communities every year – and most years we've won. But this past year, the White House and Republican Congress finally ended support for Healthy Communities and made healthcare less accessible for families from coast to coast.



If we were serious about improving healthcare, we'd be investing in local programs that make a difference, but instead the Republican leadership is focused on distractions. We can do better.



S. 1955 is Flawed



Mr. President, let me turn to the specific problems with S.1955 and explain why so many experts across the country are warning us that this bill will eliminate critical patient protections, lead to unfair premiums and insurance practices, and raise the cost of healthcare.



1. Eliminates Patient Protections



First, this bill will eliminate many of the important protections that keep patients healthy and that lower the cost of healthcare.



Washington state has enacted a number of state patient protections that require health plans to cover services such as diabetic care, mental health services, breast and cervical cancer screenings, emergency medical services, and dental procedures. But under this bill, Small Business Health Plans or Association Health Plans would not be required to cover these important benefits. Allowing insurers to abandon mandated benefits, many of which are preventative and/or diagnostic, will result in a sicker population and higher health care costs.



When this legislation was debated in the HELP Committee, I offered a number of amendments to provide for coverage of several important women’s health benefits. Unfortunately, my amendments were defeated. So here we have a bill that will strip away the protections that patients rely on.



Families USA Report

A new report by Families USA shows just how many families in my home state will be hurt by this bill. The report found that 1,861,000 residents of Washington state may lose state protections if this bill is passed.



And what could they lose? Emergency services, home healthcare, drug and alcohol treatment, contraceptives, diabetic supplies and education, Hospice Care, Mammography Screening, Maternity services, mental healthcare, and many other services. I'm not going to tell nearly 2 million people I represent that we're going to take a gamble and risk losing those hard-won protections for a plan that will likely raise the cost of healthcare for many families and small businesses.



2. Unfair Premiums (Cherry Picking)



Second, this bill will encourage insurance companies to charge higher premiums for less healthy consumers. This bill will preempt strong laws and protections in our state that limit the ability of insurers to vary premiums based on health status, age, gender, and geography. I am concerned that this will result in adverse selection or “cherry picking,” leading to higher premiums for less healthy consumers. Rates will likely become unaffordable for those who need it the most, potentially increasing the number of uninsured Americans.



Letter from Governor Gregoire



Mr. President, I'd like to share some letters that I've received from leaders in my home state who all speak out against this flawed proposal.



Recently, I received a letter from Governor Chris Gregoire, of my home state, in which she expressed her many concerns regarding this legislation and its impact on our state's residents. This chart contains the full text of the Governor's letter – and as you can see she has many serious concerns. I just want to highlight for the Senate some of the main points the Governor raised with me.



Governor Gregoire alludes to the harmful aspects of this bill, saying:

"S-1955 stands to harm our small group insurance market, a critical component of Washington State's current health care system. Instead of promoting more affordable health care, this legislation would cause a serious increase in rates for consumers- possibly two or three times over what they pay now."




Governor Gregoire also warns "this bill threatens consumer protections that the state of Washington strives to guarantee to all of our residents."



The Governor also warns that this bill would "foster a proliferation of health plans that do not cover preventative services that are absolutely vital to the health and wellbeing of Washington residents."



Letter from the Washington State Medical Association



Mr. President, I'd like to also share a letter I received from the 9,000 member Washington State Medical Association in strong opposition to S.1955.



This chart shows the full letter, and I'd like to read a portion. "This legislation will have a severe impact on all the consumer health gains that have been made in Washington State over the past decade."



S. 1955 will:

"undermine Washington State's many gains in advancing mental health care quality; pull people from existing insurance coverage rather than attract the uninsured; lead to higher costs for consumers; Strike down Washington's Mental Health Parity law, which took eight years of work to be enacted; eliminate other mandated benefits that help consumers such as mammography services; and, leave Washington's citizens at risk for unpaid medical bills in the event of an AHP insolvency."


Mr. President, that is from the head of the Washington State Medical Association, which has 9,000 members in my home state.



3. Will Not Lower Healthcare Costs



Third, this proposal does nothing to address increasing health care costs. In fact, it just builds on the sorry record of the Administration and this Congress in not addressing the rising costs that Americans face. Because of the flaws I mentioned above, this bill does nothing to contain costs. In fact, it could dramatically increase costs for many businesses and families in Washington State. It will also mean that people in my State of Washington who have affordable coverage could end up worse off than they are today.



I know that my State has been a leader in working to expand access to affordable health insurance for working families and small businesses. Many of these reforms that work to control costs in my state would be jeopardized if this legislation were enacted. Washington State also has a proud tradition of strong consumer protections and integrated, managed care that has improved health outcomes and controlled cost increases.



I Support Pooling



I support the concept of pooling and believe we can implement policies that provide stability in health insurance premiums. I am currently working with a number of my colleagues on legislation to create federal and state catastrophic cost pools to spread out the risks and address what is really driving health care costs. We can help spread the risk in ways that will lower costs and still protect patients, but the legislation before us could raise costs for consumers and small businesses. We can do better.



Mr. President, there are serious challenges facing our country when it comes to healthcare. This Senate needs to get serious. Instead of focusing on a distraction, we should be helping seniors with prescription drugs, expanding life-saving research and supporting community healthcare.



Those are some of the things we should be working on to reduce cost of healthcare, improve access, and accelerate innovation. We can do all of those things, but we need the Republican leadership to get serious if we're going to provide serious solutions.



We don't have a day to waste. I hope we can get to work on the real solutions that American families deserve.