Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“M. President, is there anything more tragic than a preventable catastrophe? What is more shameful than having the ability to stop disaster, but not using that power?
“Ancient and recent history alike is saturated with examples of nations standing idly by while threats escalated and storm clouds gathered on the horizon. Too many times we have learned by example what not to do when we see tragedy pass before our eyes.
“Today is no different. Today we face two kinds of preventable tragedies – one on a personal scale and one on a national scale.
“There are examples of the first kind in every city in Nevada and every state in the Union. Stories of preventable deaths fill our mailboxes and our media. In many of these cases, we can draw a direct line from an American’s death to their lack of decent health care.
“And in almost all of those cases, we can draw another direct line from their lack of decent health care to our broken health insurance system.
“A startling new book by T. R. Reid traces his travels throughout the developed world, and contrasts our health care system with the far more successful, affordable and equitable health care systems in several industrialized nations.
“It opens with the terrible story of Nikki White, who died at 32 years young. The official medical records show that she died from complications of lupus. But ask her doctor, and she’ll tell you that Nikki died from complications of our health care system.
“We know how to treat lupus. America is home to millions of doctors and thousands of hospitals that can help someone with lupus live a longer life. America has developed the science and the medicine and the therapies that let people with lupus live full, active lives.
“But because Nikki’s health insurance company refused to cover her once she got sick, and because Nikki’s income was too much for Medicaid but too little for her medicine’s cost, she was stranded.
“This story is tragic because Nikki White died a preventable death in the richest nation in the history of the world. It is even more tragic because it is not the only one of its kind – not by a long shot.
“All over America, people are dying too soon. Conditions that should be fixable are now fatal. Easily treatable diagnoses are now death sentences.
“More and more, Americans who come down with the flu, or are diagnosed with diabetes, or suffer a stroke are dying far earlier than modern science says they should have to die. More and more, Americans who contract skin cancer or have a hernia or experience complications during surgery are dying rather than being cured.
“These diseases can strike any of us. In fact, more than half of all Americans live with at least one chronic condition, and those conditions cause 70 percent of the deaths in America.
“A group called the Commonwealth Fund researches ways our health insurance system can work better. It recently ranked 19 industrialized countries on how they handle preventable deaths. The United States ranked 19th. Their study also found that as many as 100,000 American lives could be saved if we admitted that some health care systems work better than ours, and borrowed some of the best ideas that make them work.
“And by the way, we are paying for the privilege – over the past eight years of inaction, the price of staying healthy in America rose to record levels, and the number of Americans who can’t afford insurance did the same.
“One in five Nevadans can’t afford health insurance today. Those who do have it are at great risk of losing it. And if we don’t act, in 10 years health care costs will more than double, and the number of Nevadans who can’t afford health insurance will nearly double as well. If we don’t act, more Americans will suffer needlessly.
“That Americans are dying preventable deaths is one of the two avoidable tragedies I said I wanted to discuss. The second is that some here in Congress are preventing solutions to that problem.
“We have the power to prevent this national crisis from growing, just like we have the power to prevent diseases from killing us too soon. We have the ability to treat our unhealthy health care system.
“Five Congressional Committees – three in the House and two in the Senate – have studied the data, debated the arguments and proposed ideas for what to do next.
“But while we listen to the stories of real people with real problems, some try to divert our attention with distortions, distractions and deception.
“While we strive to change a broken status quo, some defend it at all costs.
“While we seek common ground, some insist on opposing good ideas simply because they are proposed by people who sit on a different side of this chamber, or by a President who comes from a different political party. As former Senate Leader Bob Dole said last week, ‘Sometimes people fight you just to fight you.’
“It is inexcusable to let a preventable disease become a deadly one, and it is equally unacceptable to deny the American people the change they demand.
“M. President, if do not act, we will not having the luxury of saying later with regret, ‘If we only knew then what we know now.’ We know now exactly what we need to know.
“We know now that these deaths are preventable. The question before the Senate is: Do we want to prevent them?
“These tragedies are avoidable. The question before the Senate is: Do we want to avoid them?
“This broken health care system is fixable. The question before the Senate is: Do we want to fix it?”