Washington, DC— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement this morning on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Last month I stood here and told you about a young woman from Nevada named Alysia. She was born with a kidney disease – one that she has fought bravely her entire life.
“But lately, things have gotten worse. Like far too many Americans in recent months, Alysia lost her job. And as far too many Americans have learned lately, when you lose your job, your health care often disappears along with it.
“Alysia did what any of us would do in the same situation. She tried to get independent coverage so she can afford the surgery she needs to get better. Her doctors say surgery is imperative, but insurance companies say it’s impossible.
“They refuse to cover her. They call her kidney disease a ‘preexisting condition.’ Everyone else calls this a tragedy.
“Alysia isn’t the only Nevadan who has written me about this injustice.
“Caleb Wolz is a high school student from Sparks, Nevada. Like so many kids, he used to play soccer when he was younger. But now he just sticks to skiing and rock climbing. You can forgive him for giving up soccer, though. You see, Caleb was born without any legs.
“As kids grow up, they grow out of their shoes. A lot of kids probably get a new pair every year. But Caleb, who is 17, has needed a new pair of prosthetic legs every year since he was five years old.
“You can probably guess where this is going. Caleb’s insurance company has decided it knows better than his doctor – and has decided Caleb doesn’t need legs that fit.
“Even after looking at pictures of the bruises and abrasions Caleb suffered from prosthetics that were too small, his insurance company decided once again that his preexisting condition is too expensive to deal with.
“These stories are hard to hear, but they are not hard to come by. They are extraordinary, but they are not unique. This happens to women all over southern Nevada just like Alysia and boys across northern Nevada like Caleb. It happens to people on the east coast and the west coast. It happens to Americans in small towns and big cities.
“Every day, private insurance companies look at a patient’s medical history and the prescriptions they’ve filled. Then they deny them coverage or charge them exorbitant rates because of the patient’s age or a specific illness.
“For every 10 Americans who try to get health care, nine of them never buy a plan because insurance companies deny them or make it too expensive.
“Most of us were not born with a kidney disease like Alysia’s – and unlike Caleb, most of us were born with both of our legs. But unless you are in absolutely perfect health – without a history or a risk of anything from heart disease to high cholesterol to hay fever – you’re out of luck.
“Some insurance companies even treat caesarean sections as a preexisting condition – and sometimes even accuse women of scheduling unnecessary C-sections when they give birth.
“More than half of all Americans live with at least one chronic condition, and those conditions cause 70 percent of the deaths in America. Yet right now, insurance companies that care more about profits than about people are in complete control of our wellbeing.
“They are holding Americans’ health hostage – and far too many of us cannot afford the ransom.
“Reforming health care is a complex endeavor. But one part of Democrats’ vision for health care is simple: We are going to give people control over their own health. We are no longer going to let greedy insurance companies use a patient’s preexisting condition as an excuse to deny them the coverage they need.
“We will lower the high costs of health care. We will make sure every American has access to that quality, affordable care. And we will make sure people still have the power to choose their own doctors, hospitals and health plans.
“If we leave it up to private insurance companies that are more interested in keeping their profits up than keeping us healthy, that won’t happen. Nor will it happen if our Republican colleagues continue to defend the status quo.
“A few weeks ago, the Republican Leader in the House of Representatives said the following: ‘I think we all understand that we’ve got the best health care system in the world.’
“How can one defend a health care system that goes out of its way not to care for people’s health? And how can anyone celebrate such a system with a straight face?
“That health care system told Alysia she can’t get the kidney surgery she needs. That health care system told Caleb he can’t get the legs he needs. I think they would respectfully disagree with the Republican Leader.
“Insurance companies and most of our Republican colleagues seem to share a common philosophy: They both reflexively and recklessly say ‘no,’ for no good reason. That’s a philosophy we can’t afford.
“If you are fortunate enough to have coverage that you like, you can keep it. But if you don’t like the fact that your insurance company can deny you coverage whenever it feels like it, you’ll agree we need to change the way things are.”