“I believe we should repeal the defective payment system without increasing costs and without limiting access to quality health care. We need to restore sanity to the Medicare payment system without cutting benefits to seniors and without shifting the financial burden to hospitals.”
“For the millions of elderly Americans and their doctors this fix is good news. It means the promise of accessible, quality health care to our nation’s seniors is being honored for another year. So, while I am pleased with this temporary patch, I hope it is our last.”
“We’ve waited three long months since Senate Republicans first filibustered a bill to restore emergency benefits to the long-term unemployed. More importantly, unemployed Americans have waited.”
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the bipartisan one year fix to the Medicare physician payment system and the importance of extending unemployment benefits to millions of Americans. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
I wish a happy baseball opening day to the Presiding officer and my colleagues. Though it is opening day for Major League Baseball, it also happens to be the last day for Americans to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. To date, there over 10 million newly-insured Americans benefiting from the health care law. It is clear that Americans are signing up for affordable, quality health care in record numbers.
I’m pleased that we’ve been able to come to an agreement to vote today on a 12-month fix to the Medicare physician payment system. We need to take action on this to ensure that Medicare patients will be able to see their doctors. But the fact remains that the agreement we have in place is not ideal. Prior to leaving the Senate, then-Chairman Baucus negotiated a bipartisan, bicameral solution to repeal the flawed Medicare physician payment system. This was no hastily-made deal in the middle of the night. This was an agreement that came to fruition after more than a year of tough negotiations. Unfortunately, the parties could not settle the issue of how to pay for the permanent fix. I would have preferred a real solution to the sustainable growth rate issue. The House Republicans, though, chose to pass a partisan bill that would have increased the number of uninsured Americans and raised the cost of premiums. I believe we should repeal the defective payment system without increasing costs and without limiting access to quality health care. We need to restore sanity to the Medicare payment system without cutting benefits to seniors and without shifting the financial burden to hospitals.
Regrettably, we just don’t have the votes right now to fix this problem for good. For the millions of elderly Americans and their doctors this fix is good news. It means the promise of accessible, quality health care to our nation’s seniors is being honored for another year. So, while I am pleased with this temporary patch, I hope it is our last. In the meantime, I extend my deep appreciation to Senator Wyden the Chairman of the Finance Committee for his work to bring stability to the Medicare payment program. From the moment he assumed the gavel on the Finance Committee, Senator Wyden has hit the ground running on this issue, as well as reforming the entire tax code. I support his efforts to pay for the Medicare payment patch with funds from the Overseas Contingency Operations program – money left over from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
After confirming a long awaited judge for the 9th Circuit Court and approving a patch for the Medicare payment program, the Senate will then turn to a long overdue extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed. This is a matter of the utmost importance to millions of Americans. We’ve waited three long months since Senate Republicans first filibustered a bill to restore emergency benefits to the long-term unemployed. More importantly, unemployed Americans have waited. Since that filibuster, nearly one million more Americans have lost their benefits. That’s 300,000 people a month who have been thrust into crippling poverty not knowing how they’ll pay the bills. I received a letter recently from an older Nevadan named ‘Jane,’ who pleaded for Congress to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed. But she didn’t make the plea for herself it was for her son. She said, “Please do all in your power to get this matter resolved…. My son has been looking since May of last year. He held his last job for 26 years and doesn’t have a lot of experience in other fields. I cannot continue to help him. I lost my husband last July and lost his Social Security. I have only mine now. Please do what you can to help those who are in this position.”
Can you imagine? An elderly woman a widow so desperate to assist her middle-aged son that she is using her meager social security check to help him get by. And now, her own financial situation is now in jeopardy. Jane and her son have already seen what happens when much-needed unemployment benefits don’t get extended. For Nevadans fighting to pay the rent, keep the lights on, or feed their children, they’ve waited long enough. But we know why the Republicans prefer to wait – because for many of my colleagues across the aisle, waiting means “doing nothing.” The fact is that the majority of Republicans here in Congress are simply opposed to helping the long-term unemployed.
A GOP Congressman from California even said that an extension of unemployment benefits “will encourage unemployment.” This elected representative believes that the half million residents of his state who had their aid cut-off actually prefer to be jobless. Here in the Senate last Thursday only 10 out of 45 Republicans voted to help Democrats break the three-month filibuster. In fact, the GOP Senators from the state with the third-highest population of eligible long-term unemployed Texas both voted to block an extension of benefits. It’s as if they simply don’t care that some of their own constituents are teetering on the verge of indigence.
Notwithstanding this opposition to extending unemployment benefits I am confident we will pass this bipartisan legislation here in the Senate this week. Once passed, the matter is then in the hands of the Republicans who control the House of Representatives. We hope they will be considerate to the roughly 2.8 million long-term unemployed across the country Perhaps then, these struggling Americans will finally get the relief they deserve.