Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of a bill that would prevent a cut in doctor’s payments and take care of America’s seniors:
“In 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson traveled from Washington, D.C., to Independence, Missouri, to join former President Harry Truman in his hometown. The purpose of the trip and the meeting between the current and former president was to sign into law a bill that Truman had conceived and Johnson championed. The new law created Medicare – a program that has ensured quality health care to America’s senior citizens for more than 40 years.
“Since Johnson signed the bill and gave Truman the first ceremonial Medicare card, hundreds of millions of senior citizens have received one too. With each new card issued, our country renews its commitment to the bedrock value that those who have worked hard and made their contribution to society deserve to know that they will be cared for as they reach their golden years.
“But even on the day the bill was signed, President Johnson acknowledged that it was imperfect. For all the good Medicare has done our nation’s seniors through the years – for all the good it does for them today – it could be far better.
“Our efforts to make Medicare work better continue today with the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act. I am grateful for the work of the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the senior Senator from Montana, Max Baucus. Anyone who knows the Senator from Montana is well aware of his ability to work with both sides of the aisle to forge bipartisan solutions. On this legislation, Senator Baucus worked tirelessly with his Republican counterpart, Senator Grassley. He reached out to the Bush Administration and to the Republican leader, Senator McConnell.
“In these efforts, he was met with a reluctance to move forward – a reluctance that has sadly become the rule, not the exception, among our Republican colleagues. Nevertheless, Senator Baucus moved forward. He worked side by side with Democrats and willing Republicans to create a bill that will make Medicare work better for millions of senior citizens.
“Senator Baucus laid out the many virtues of this legislation yesterday, so I will do no more than summarize the key points.
“This legislation provides increased coverage for preventive care. This is so important. There is no better way to treat illness than preventive care. Not only will this enhanced preventive coverage improve the health of Medicare recipients, but it will also save tax payers in the long run from the astronomically higher costs associated of treating serious illnesses.
“This legislation also makes mental health care more affordable. I have worked throughout my time in Congress to shed light on the tragic but all-too often hidden crisis of depression and other mental health problems among older Americans. Medicare currently discourages beneficiaries from seeking care for mental illness by requiring a 50 percent co-payment for mental health services, versus a 20 percent co-payment for physical health services. This legislation will eliminate that disparity and expand coverage for medications to treat mental health illness.
“This legislation also makes it easier for low-income seniors to access benefits by extending the Qualified Individuals Program, increasing eligibility for the Medicare Savings Program and eliminating the Drug Benefit Penalty.
“And for all seniors, this bill provides funds for state and local programs to help navigate through the program and ensure the greatest benefits possible.
“When President Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, he acknowledged that for all the good the program would do, it was not perfect. That has not changed today. For all its virtues, far too many senior citizens are not accessing the care they have earned and to which they are entitled.
“Far more can be done to prevent and treat physical and mental illness to provide older Americans with the very best quality of life we can. Will this legislation make Medicare perfect? Of course not. But there is no question that it will make it better – far better. There is no question it will help millions of Americans access Medicare and get the most of its benefits once they do.
“There has been some talk of Republicans refusing to join Democrats to support the motion to proceed to this legislation. What that means is very simple: Republicans wouldn’t just be refusing to support the bill; they would be refusing to even let us move to debate it. They would be stopping this crucial legislation in its tracks – denying any possibility of progress or compromise.
“I hope rumors of Republican obstruction on Medicare prove untrue. I cannot imagine why all 100 Senators would not flock to quickly pass this legislation – much less why they would not all eagerly vote for the motion to proceed.
“Denying debate on this bill and denying its passage would be a grave disservice to the tens of millions of Americans over the age of 65. It would be a slap in the face to all of those who suffer silently through mental illness because they cannot afford the treatment that would make them well.
“Opposing this legislation and clinging to the status quo, as I fear some Republicans may choose to do, would be an abandonment of our decades-old commitment to honoring and caring for our senior citizens in the manner they deserve. In Independence, Missouri, 43 years ago, President Johnson said:
‘Many men can make many proposals. Many men can draft many laws. But few have the piercing and humane eye which can see beyond the words to the people that they touch. Few can see past the speeches and the political battles to the doctor over there that is tending the infirm, and to the hospital that is receiving those in anguish, or feel in their heart painful wrath at the injustice which denies the miracle of healing to the old and to the poor. And fewer still have the courage to stake reputation, and position, and the effort of a lifetime upon such a cause when there are so few that share it. But it is just such men who illuminate the life and the history of a nation.’
“I hope we will take President Johnson’s words to heart and vote to move forward on this crucial legislation that America’s senior citizens have earned.”