Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on Trumpcare Medicaid Cuts
I have some remarks pertaining to health care that I’ll get to in a moment. But first, I want to briefly address the events of this morning. The shooting that took place in Alexandria today was a despicable, horrifying act of violence. The victims, including Congressman Scalise, two Capitol Police officers and two others are still undergoing treatment. There’s a lot we still don’t know about this incident.
But here are a few things we do know. First, it is thanks to the extraordinary heroics of the Capitol Police and first responders on the scene that this shooting did not become a massacre. Each and every one of us who comes to work in these buildings every day is profoundly grateful for their service and protection.
Second, we know that this violence has visited too many of our communities, and it has cost and ruined too many lives.
And finally, we know that the game our colleagues were practicing for – a charity game between rival parties that’s held to benefit disadvantaged kids – will go on as planned. This game is a show of friendship and bipartisan spirit every year, but never more than it will be tomorrow.
Again, my thoughts will be with those who were injured, and everyone here is hoping and praying they make full and speedy recoveries.
There are dramatic headlines in the news pertaining to Trump ties with Russia. But I want to be sure that what’s happening here in the Senate with respect to health care doesn’t get drowned out. Behind closed doors, 13 Senators, all of them from the same party, all of them men, are updating the Republican health care plan.
The House passed its Trumpcare bill by the slimmest of margins several weeks ago. The public has seen it, and it’s gone over about as well as root canal surgery. I’ve certainly heard almost every imaginable concern about that House bill from Oregonians at my 46 town halls so far this year, including four this past weekend.
So when the bill came here to the Senate, my colleagues on the other side got out in the press, tamped down expectations, and claimed they’d be starting from scratch. But now the public knows -- because it’s what members of the majority are saying -- that the Senate version won’t be all that different from what barely made it out of the House this spring.
When the bill is finalized it’ll be rushed straight to the floor, and it won’t be long before debate is cut off, and the final votes are cast. It’s a plan that relies on speed -- forcing a massive, devastating blow to our health care system through the Senate before the American people catch on.
This is a political process on Trumpcare that makes the House look positively transparent. And the basic framework of the Republican health care plan is not going to change -- millions and millions of Americans will lose health insurance, costs will go up, especially for older and sicker people, and the wealthiest people out there will get an enormous tax break. And of course, if the basic framework isn’t changing, that means Medicaid will be under attack.
The public health care system in America has stood on twin pillars since 1965 -- Medicare and Medicaid -- and Republicans have a plan to knock one of them out beginning this year. Today Medicaid comes with a guarantee that if you’re sick, if you’re injured, or if you spend each and every day walking an economic tightrope, you’ll get care when you need it. You will not be denied benefits. But Trumpcare ends that guarantee.
The plan Republicans have on offer would dismantle Medicaid as we know it today, enacting hard dollar limits that put caps on care. In effect, it’s a scheme that puts Medicaid in a vice, squeezing its funding year after year. This plan makes budget targets a bigger priority than the real-world health care needs of some of the most vulnerable people out there.
Seventy-four million Americans have health coverage through Medicaid, including thirty-seven million children. It provides comprehensive care to millions of pregnant women and it’s leading the fight against the opioid epidemic with treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders. Medicaid is vital when it comes to helping kids and adults with disabilities. And then there’s the nursing home benefit -- the bedrock protection built into Medicaid that helps pick up the tab for two out of three nursing home beds in America.
Colleagues, if you squeeze the Medicaid program tighter and tighter and states are forced to cut benefits and access to care -- as they inevitably will be under Trumpcare -- how can you protect seniors in nursing homes?
The Republican health plan is one of the greatest threats seniors have ever faced. These are people who’ve done everything right. They’re our mothers and fathers, our grandparents and friends. They found fought our wars, started families and built careers. They raised kids, scrimping and saving as much as they could. They set aside what they could for school and retirement.
But the fact is, growing old in America is expensive. The bills don’t stop coming when you retire, and most older people are living on limited, fixed incomes. I know that from my time as the co-director of the Oregon Gray Panthers. I worked with a lot of older people who had to stretch every last penny, and even then, it was a struggle to cover the basics.
So a lot of American seniors will eventually spend down their savings. And when it comes time to pay for long term care, like nursing home and home-based care, Medicaid steps up. It is the guaranteed backstop that protects people in old age. And colleagues, I don’t want to undersell how much that means to people in Oregon and across the country. Medicaid is the barrier that keeps millions of seniors from falling into isolation and utter destitution.
There was a time in this country when seniors were cast aside, relegated to poor farms and almshouses. The wealthiest nation on earth said goodbye to that era with the creation of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
But under the Republican health care plan, Medicaid would be slashed so deeply, states will be forced into cutting benefits. Seniors could be nickel and dimed for basic, everyday services. Nursing homes could be shuttered, home-based care that allows seniors to live independently could be no more. Seniors could be out on the street.
So in my view, Americans are owed answers to key questions about this Republican plan. First, how are families supposed to support their loved ones if they lose the guarantee of Medicaid? One year in a nursing home costs more than $90,000 on average. That’s two or three times the cost of a year of college tuition.
Are families going to be forced into choosing between educating their kids and supporting their elderly parents? Is it going to become a fact of life for working Americans that they have to cram two, three, or four generations of one family into the same house, simply because they can’t afford nursing home care?
Second, what’s the backup plan for vulnerable, isolated seniors, particularly those who live in rural areas? I recently held a series of eight health care roundtables in rural communities across Oregon, most recently in Pendleton and Condon. And the message I heard from health care providers throughout rural Oregon was that the Trumpcare cuts could hit seniors in those areas especially hard.
Seniors in rural communities have higher rates of chronic illness like heart disease and diabetes. The health care they need requires more attention and more service. They count on getting top-notch care in nursing homes and from home-based providers. Losing these benefits could mean being alone in a home that’s unsafe, cut off from the care and connection they need.
Colleagues, in the last few weeks of this debate, I’ve heard members flatly deny that gutting Medicaid by more than $800 billion will mean anybody loses access to health care services. That is simply untrue. Anybody who says they can slash our health care programs by close to a trillion dollars without having any negative impact on health care is dead wrong.
And furthermore, let’s recognize what the end goal of this debate appears to be. My Republican colleagues haven’t put forward a proposal to protect seniors who can’t get the Medicaid nursing home care they need or kids with disabilities who lose the services they depend on. What Republicans have on offer is not a plan that swaps one vision of health care for another. These massive cuts to Medicaid and other health programs are going to pay for equally massive tax cuts for the wealthy.
Members of this body will have to decide whether it’s worth gutting Medicaid and endangering the essential care like the nursing home care and important home-based services to pay for these tax cuts. In my view it’s an easy choice. My colleagues on the other side ought to drop this partisan approach that’s heading toward reconciliation.
At a minimum, the majority party ought to bring this process out from behind closed doors. There should be hearings convened in the Finance Committee and the other committees of jurisdiction as there were again and again in 2008 and 2009.
This debate should be held out in the open, the legislation should be written in the light of day, and the public ought to have ample time to review it before it goes up for a single vote, either in committee or here on the floor.
The Senate should be tackling this country’s health care challenges on a bipartisan basis. My Democratic colleagues and I want to work across the aisle to inject more competition into the insurance markets. We want to work together on bringing down prescription drug prices. But reconciliation is the partisan path, and these devastating cuts to Medicaid are a non-starter. I urge my colleagues to abandon this approach and work on a bipartisan basis instead. And I urge the public to make their voices heard.