October 26, 2000


Today, the House is voting on a tax bill conference report which provides significant relief to only a favored few health providers from the cuts enacted in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. The majority has turned its back on the bipartisan Commerce Committee bill, choosing to strip out Democratic priorities, and has rewarded its industry friends instead.

It should come as no surprise, though, that the Republicans would choose to devote billions to the insurance companies and the wealthy, leaving working Americans, disabled children, seniors, and the immigrants with little. The Republican leadership has spent all year fighting against a Medicare prescription drug benefit, against a strong, enforceable Patientsí Bill of Rights, and against meaningful expansions of health care for working families. Why should we expect any less at the final hour?

At every turn, the Republican leadership has blocked meaningful health care legislation. Yet, now they are passing a bill that gives massive tax cuts for the rich, without any financing for Medicare prescription drug coverage that seniors desperately need. It gives billions of dollars for HMOs -- more than one third of the money, $30 billion over 10 years goes to HMOs -- without any guarantee that seniors will see increased access to plans or increased benefits. It gives billions of dollars for tax deductions for health insurance that will erode existing employer coverage and will not reduce the number of uninsured.

The facts are clear. This is Republican pork, a rich reward to their undeserving friends. It gives billions to the fat-cat HMOs and the wealthy at the expense of the beneficiaries and vulnerable providers. No wonder the Republican leadership did this in the dead of night.

Democrats have fought, and will continue to fight, for a balanced bill that fairly allocates money for beneficiaries, providers, and HMOs. We believe in making sure that Medicare is always there for seniors and that in the absence of universal coverage, there is always a strong safety net that will provide high quality health care for the uninsured and low-income.

And, if thatís not bad enough, not only has the Republican Congress failed to pass a "real" Patientsí Bill of Rights, but this bill also undermines Medicare protections for seniors, by including what the Republicans are falsely calling a "Medicare Patients Bill of Rights."

I know the Patientsí Bill of Rights --I wrote it, along with my Republican colleagues Dr. Norwood and Dr. Ganske, and others. And, this is no Patientsí Bill of Rights for Medicare. In fact, Charlie Norwood and I wrote a letter to the Speaker urging him to delete it. This Republican provision puts our seniors at the mercy of the health plans.

I urge my colleagues to vote "no" for this sham legislation, so that we can sit down on a bipartisan basis and craft a balanced bill that will reflect important bipartisan priorities for seniors, low-income families, and children.

When it comes to allocating money for Medicare and Medicaid priorities, Democrats have consistently called for spending it on the people who benefit from the programs. Democrats are the ones who created the Medicare and Medicaid programs in the 1960s. We are the party that has fought to preserve, protect, and strengthen these programs over the years.

The Republican bill fails to include important priorities to preserve and strengthen these programs, like expanding and improving coverage to legal immigrant children and pregnant women, to disabled children, and to uninsured parents of Medicaid and CHIP children. The bill fails to allocate adequate money to ensure providers remain able to care for the sick: payments for hospitals that serve the low income and uninsured; payments for home health agencies; money to improve care in nursing homes -- are all inadequate or omitted.

The House and Senate Democrats brought these and other beneficiary- and provider-centered proposals to the table. We fought for ensuring seniors with Alzheimer's can still get access to Medicare home care, helping individuals with ALS get treatment for their disease, improving quality standards in nursing homes, and improving enrollment and outreach for cost-sharing assistance programs for low-income seniors. But once we were shut out of the room, any gains that we made for beneficiary priorities in the early stages of the process mysteriously disappeared from sight -- or have been pared down to virtually nothing.


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