Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following remarks on the Senate floor this morning in advance of a Senate cloture vote on the manager’s amendment to The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:
“All over America, people are dying too soon. More and more, Americans who come down with the flu, or develop diabetes, or suffer a stroke are dying far earlier than modern science says they should die. More and more, Americans who contract skin cancer or have a heart condition are dying rather than being cured.
“Pull out the medical records of these patients, and the official forms will tell you they’ve died from complications of a disease or a surgery. But what is really killing more and more Americans every day are complications of our health care system.
“Much of our attention this year has been consumed by this health care debate. And a Harvard study found that 45,000 times this year – nearly 900 times every week, more than 120 times a day, on average every 10 minutes, without end – an American died as a direct result of not having health insurance.
“The numbers are numbing. And they don’t even include those who did have health insurance, but who died because they couldn’t afford a plan that met their most basic needs.
“This country – the greatest and richest the world has ever seen – is the only advanced nation on earth where dying for lack of health insurance is even possible.
“And to make matters worse, we are paying for that privilege. The price of staying healthy in America goes up and up and up – and not surprisingly, so does the number of Americans who can’t afford it. In fact, medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in America.
“That is why we are here. Just as we have the ability to prevent diseases from killing us too soon, we have before us the ability to provide quality health care to every American. And we have the ability to treat our unhealthy health care system.
“That is what this historic bill does. It protects patients and consumers. It lowers the cost of staying healthy and it greatly reduces our deficit.
“This landmark legislation protects America’s youngest citizens by making it illegal for insurance companies to refuse to cover a child because of a pre-existing condition.
“And it protects America’s oldest citizens by strengthening Medicare and extending its life by nearly a decade. We’re also taking the first steps to close the notorious loophole known as the ‘doughnut hole’ that costs seniors thousands of dollars for prescription drugs. Those are some of the reasons AARP and its 40 million members are behind this bill.
“This bill also strengthens our future by cutting our towering national deficit by as much as $1.3 trillion dollars over the next 20 years – that’s trillion, with a ‘T.’ It cuts the deficit more sharply than anything Congress has done in a long time.
“With this vote, we are rejecting a system in which one class of people can afford to stay healthy while another cannot. It demands for the first time in American history that good health will not depend on great wealth. It acknowledges, finally, that health care is a fundamental right – a human right – and not just a privilege for the most fortunate.
“President Johnson, a former Majority Leader of this Senate, signed Medicare into law with the advice that we, ‘see beyond the words to the people that they touch.’ That is just as true today as it was 44 years ago.
“This isn’t about partisanship or procedure. It’s not about politics, and it’s not about polling.
“It is about people. It’s about life and death in America. It’s about human suffering. And given the chance to relieve this suffering, we must.
“Citizens in each of our states have written to tell us they are broke because of our broken health system. Some send letters with even worse news – news of grave illness and preventable death.
“For weeks we have heard opponents complain about the number of pages in this bill. But I prefer to think of this bill in terms of the number of people it will help.
“A woman named Lisa Vocelka lives in Gardnerville, Nevada, with her two daughters, both of whom are in elementary school. The youngest suffers seizures and her teachers think she has a learning disability.
“Because of her family history, Lisa, the girls’ mom, is at high risk for cervical cancer. Though she is supposed to get an exam every three months, she goes just once a year to save money.
“When Lisa lost her job, she lost her health coverage. Now both Lisa and her daughter miss out on the tests and preventive medicine that could keep them healthy. Her long letter to me ended with a simple plea. It was, ‘We want to go to the doctor.’
“That’s why this bill will ensure all Americans can get the preventive tests and screenings they need for free. I am voting ‘yes’ because I believe Lisa and her daughter deserve to go to the doctor.
“A teenager named 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 with legs that end at his thighs.
“As kids grow, they grow out of their shoes. A lot of kids probably get a new pair every year. But Caleb has needed a new pair of prosthetic legs every year since he was five years old.
“Unfortunately and unbelievably, Caleb’s insurance company has decided it knows better than his doctor – and has decided Caleb doesn’t need legs that fit.
“That’s why this bill will make it illegal for insurance companies to use pre-existing conditions as an excuse to take your money but not give you any coverage for it. I am voting ‘yes’ because I believe Caleb deserves a set of prosthetics that fit.
“Ken Hansen wrote to me from Mesquite, Nevada, on our border with Arizona and Utah. He has chronic heart problems and parts of his feet have been amputated. But Ken can’t go to a doctor because he makes too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance.
“I want to share with the Senate exactly what Ken wrote me:
‘I am very frustrated because it seems that my only hope is that I die very soon, because I cannot afford to stay alive.’
“That’s why this bill will expand Medicaid to cover people like Ken, who are caught in the middle. I am voting ‘yes’ because when someone tells me his only hope is to die, I cannot look away. We cannot possibly do nothing.
“Mike Tracy lives in North Las Vegas, Nevada. His 26-year-old son has been an insulin-dependent diabetic since he was an infant. The insurance Mike’s son gets through work won’t cover his treatments, and the Tracys can’t afford to buy more insurance on their own.
“But this family’s troubles are about more than just money. Since they couldn’t afford to treat their son’s diabetes, it developed into Addison’s disease – which of course they can’t afford to treat either – and which could be fatal.
“This is what Mike wrote me just two weeks ago – quote:
‘I don’t know what to pray for first: that I will die before my son will so I don’t have to bear the burden, or that I outlive him so I can provide support to his family when he is gone.’
“This shouldn’t be a choice any American should have to make – and when given the chance to help people like Mike, our choice should be easy.
“These are hardworking citizens with heartbreaking stories. They are people who play by the rules and simply want their insurance company to do the same.
“And they are not alone. These tragedies don’t happen only to Nevadans. They don’t happen only to people who, despite all their pain, find time to write their leaders in Congress.
“They happen to people on the East Coast, the West Coast and everywhere in between. They happen to Americans in small towns and big cities. They happen to citizens on the left and the right of the political spectrum.
“As Mike Tracy wrote in his tragic letter about his son: ‘Democrats need health care. Republicans need health care. Independents need health care. All Americans need health care. Get it done.’ He’s right.
“Every single Senator here comes from a state where these injustices happen every single day. Every single Senator represents hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who have to choose between paying an electricity bill or a medical bill – between filling a doctor’s prescription or just hoping for the best – between their mother’s chemotherapy treatment and their daughter’s college tuition.
“As I mentioned earlier, on average, an American dies from lack of health insurance every 10 minutes. That means that in the short time I have been speaking, our broken system has claimed another life. Another American has died a preventable death.
“So as our citizens face heart-rending decisions every day, tonight every Senator has a choice to make as well. That choice: Are you going to do all you can to avert the next preventable death?”