Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following remarks on the Senate floor this morning regarding The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Much of this momentous health care debate revolves around numbers. We read them in reports, see them on charts and hear about them in speeches.
“The state of health care in this country is in such severe crisis that these numbers are often quite overwhelming.
“Today I want to talk about one number: The number 31. It has a special significance – especially today – along the course of this long, historic pursuit to make it possible for every American to afford good health.
“First, let’s discuss the future. The number 31 is a powerful reminder of both the great opportunity before and of the great costs of inaction – a tangible illustration of what we stand to gain and what we stand to lose.
“When we pass this bill, 31 million Americans who today have no health insurance whatsoever will at long last be able to afford it. That means they no longer will have to put off the surgery they desperately need, and they will be able to finally fill the prescription that today is too expensive to buy. It means 31 million more Americans will have a decent shot at a healthy life.
“But if we do not act – if we let misinformation confuse us, or let distractions divert us, or refuse to answer the American people’s call to action – many more will suffer. In Nevada, like in every state, health insurance costs continue to climb. If we don’t act, in just six years the typical Nevada family will spend more than 31 percent of its income on health care premiums. Almost a third of every Nevadan’s paycheck will go right to his or her health care company. That number is even higher on average throughout the country – but only if we do nothing.
“Second, let’s talk for a moment about the present. Right now, every 31 minutes, insurance companies cut off more than 300 Americans’ health coverage. Sometimes it’s because you’ve lost your job, and so you lose your health care along with it. Sometimes it’s because you’ve changed your job, but your health care doesn’t come with it. And sometimes, at the very moment you need your health care the most – the investment into which for years you have poured more and more money from every paycheck – a greedy health insurance company looks at your medical history and says, I’m sorry, we’re taking it away.
“Maybe you’ve had high cholesterol your whole life, had acne as a child or had a C-section as an adult – health insurance companies have used all of these reasons to drop someone’s coverage. Maybe you had minor surgery 10 years ago, or your mother had breast cancer, or your father had heart disease. We all know that, much like our Republican colleagues, insurance companies will use any excuse in the book to say ‘no.’
“But that statistic – that every 31 minutes in America, more than 300 people lose their health insurance coverage – what does it really mean? Imagine if the Senate Gallery above us was filled, every single one of the nearly 600 seats taken by a good American citizen who has health insurance. Imagine that each of them came in this morning to watch their government at work, and observed the proceedings here on the floor for an hour. Then each of them went on their way when that hour came to a close, but on their way out the door they were told that they no longer have health care. That’s what is happening right now in America – the wealthiest and greatest country the world has ever seen. Every 31 minutes, 300 more people lose their health coverage.
“Third, and finally, let’s talk about the past. Let’s put the historical moment upon us in the context of history.
“It was 31 years ago today that Senator Ted Kennedy gave one of the most profound and stirring speeches both of his remarkable life and in the history of our nation’s long health care debate.
“In that talk, he made an observation that rings just as true today as it did more than three decades ago. He said, quote, ‘One of the most shameful things about modern America is that in our unbelievably rich land, the quality of the health care available to many of our people is unbelievably poor, and the cost is unbelievably high.’
“He observed how out of control costs were back in 1978, and warned how quickly they would rise if we didn’t act. Well, we didn’t act, and in the past 31 years, health care costs have skyrocketed. The number of uninsured Americans has done the same. More bankruptcies than ever – three out of five – are because of medical expenses. The cost of prescription drugs has doubled in just the past decade, and far fewer small businesses can afford to cover their workers. And one more thing has happened: the resistance of the health insurance industry and Congressional Republicans to the change the American people demand has only become more tone deaf and more intense.
“If we don’t act this time, those terrible trends will only continue. Costs will go up and up, without end. More Americans who have health insurance today will lose it. More patients will die of diseases we know how to treat. And as the crisis spirals, insurance company executives will laugh all the way to the bank.
“Much of this health care debate revolves around numbers. But at its heart, it is about people.
“On December 9, 1978 – 31 years ago today – Senator Kennedy asked us to recognize that health care is, quote, ‘a basic right for all, not just an expensive privilege for the few.’
“A generation later, good health is still a luxury in this country. We are working day and night so that a generation from now, it won’t be.”