DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, spoke on the Senate floor today about Obamacare and its negative impact on Utah.
After outlining several of the health law’s deficiencies — including crushing rate increases, low enrollment figures, and decreasing options — Hatch shared experiences from Utahns who have been personally affected by the failures of Obamacare.
One letter, from constituent Chris Secrest, read:
“Since the new healthcare law was forced on us, my premiums along with my deductibles have skyrocketed. With my premium, deductible, and ‘out of pocket’ expense . . . my total [cost] for insurance now tops $20,000 per year … can anyone … explain how this can be considered ‘affordable healthcare’?”
Hatch also described a meeting he had last week with the Board of Directors for the Utah Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
In relating this experience, Hatch said, “I heard from many Utahns about the skyrocketing cost of care over the past three years. These constituents repeatedly emphasized that they had initially hoped that Obamacare would help them, but in their experience, it had only made things worse.”
The full speech is included below.
Mr. President, I rise today to speak once again on the failures of the so-called Affordable Care Act and what they mean for hardworking families and taxpayers.
This is far from the first time I’ve come to the floor to talk about Obamacare. Indeed, over the past several years, I don’t think I’ve spoken as often about any other topic.
And, I’m not alone.
Since the time Democrats forced the Affordable Care Act through Congress on a series of party-line votes, my Republican colleagues and I have been speaking out about the poor judgment and short-sightedness that has unfortunately defined the trajectory of this law, from its drafting to its passage and now well into its implementation.
And, quite frankly, we’ve had plenty of ammunition. It seems like we’re treated to at least one new Obamacare horror story every week.
My friends on the other side of the aisle have done their best to downplay our criticisms and minimize every negative story written about the problems with Obamacare. In fact, just this morning, the Senate Minority Leader came to floor to pronounce the Affordable Care Act a success. But, the American people have long recognized the truth: Obamacare isn’t working, and it never will.
This isn’t a matter of opinion, Mr. President.
This isn’t just political rhetoric in an election year.
By its own standards – and the standards of those who drafted, passed, and implemented the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare has been a historic failure.
Case in point, the American people were promised that Obamacare would bring down health costs. But, in reality, costs are continuing to go up.
Over this summer, as we’ve moved ever closer to the next open enrollment period for the Obamacare insurance exchanges, we’ve learned that insurers throughout the country have submitted requests to raise premiums by an average of 18 to 23 percent over last year’s premiums. For some plans the requested rate hikes are significantly higher than that average, coming in at more than 60 percent according to some recent reports.
Consider the following expected rate increases:
In California, policyholders can expect a 13 percent average increase in premiums, which more than triples the increases seen in the past two years.
In Florida, they can expect a rate increase of a 19 percent on average over this year.
In Nebraska, they can expect an average increase of 35 percent, with some rates increasing by nearly 50 percent;
And, in Wisconsin, rates are expected to increase on average by as much as 30 percent.
These numbers are more staggering when you consider that, when the law was passed, the Congressional Budget Office projected rate increases of around only eight percent at this point. By some estimates, premiums for silver plans – the standard metric – are expected to increase 11 percent – more than they have at any point since Obamacare was implemented.
While some of my colleagues have claimed that the evidence of massive premium increases is mostly anecdotal, and that tax credits help blunt the overall cost increase, they simply can’t ignore the facts: Premiums in the Obamacare insurance exchanges are going up in markets throughout the country, and according to CBO, 12 million individuals are estimated to have to pay the full price next year because they either are not eligible for credits, or they will choose to purchase coverage outside of the Obamacare exchanges.
What is more, the middle class is increasingly bearing the brunt of these increased costs.
As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, middle-class families are spending 25 percent more on healthcare costs, which reduces their spending on other necessities. David Cutler, a healthcare economist from Harvard, is quoted in the article as saying, when it comes to healthcare, it is “a story of three Americas.” One group, the rich, can afford healthcare easily. The poor can access public assistance. But for lower middle to middle-income Americans, “the income struggles and the health-care struggles together are a really potent issue.”
Our focus should no longer be on the question of whether premiums are going up, we should, instead, be trying to figure out why it is happening. And, in the end, there are a lot of reasons why Americans are paying more for health insurance under a new system that was supposed to help them pay less, but the overall explanation is actually pretty simple: The President’s healthcare law was poorly designed.
If you’ll recall, when my friends were drafting and passing the Affordable Care Act, they claimed that the system they were putting in place – complete with higher taxes, burdensome mandates, and draconian regulations – would entice more people into the health insurance market. And, with a larger pool of insured individuals, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle argued that insurers would be able to keep pace with all the new requirements imposed under the law without passing costs on to patients.
We now know that these projections were, to put it nicely, foolhardy.
From the outset, enrollment in the Obamacare exchanges has lagged behind the rosy projections we saw when the law was passed. And, as time has worn on, more and more people have opted to pay fines instead of purchasing healthcare on the exchanges.
In February 2013, CBO projected that more than 24 million people would be enrolled in the exchanges. As of this past March, the actual number was less than half of that number.
My colleagues, in their desperate attempts to defend the health law, tend to focus solely on the number of uninsured people in the U.S., a number that has, admittedly, gone down in recent years. However, what they tend to leave out is the fact that the vast majority of newly insured people under the law haven’t purchased insurance through the exchanges, they’ve enrolled in Medicaid, a fiscally unsound program that provides less than optimal coverage options for patients.
The Washington Post recently ran an article on the enrollment shortfalls in the exchanges, plainly spelling out the issue, saying: “Debate over how perilous the predicament is for the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, is nearly as partisan as the divide over the law itself. But at the root of the problem is this: The success of the law depends fundamentally on the exchanges being profitable for insurers — and that requires more people to sign up.”
Long story short, Mr. President, people aren’t signing up on the exchanges in the numbers that were promised. As a result, health insurance plans have been forced to adhere to the law’s burdensome mandates and regulations without the benefit of an expanded and healthier risk pool. So, as we’ve seen in recent months, plans in many of the exchanges have reported massive losses, leading a number of major insurers in important markets throughout the country to terminate their plans altogether.
The result: Patients and consumers are being left with fewer and fewer options.
According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation nearly one out of every three counties in the U.S. is likely to have only one health insurance option available on the exchanges in 2017. Another third of all U.S. counties will only have two options available. Thus, what had been approximately 35 percent of counties with two or less options on exchanges is likely to nearly double to around 67 percent.
Furthermore, more than 2 million individuals are expected to have to change plans for 2017 as a result of insurers’ leaving states, which is nearly double compared to those who had to switch carriers at the end of last year.
You don’t need a PhD in economics to know that, generally speaking, fewer options means higher costs for consumers and lower quality products being offered. And, that’s exactly what the American people are dealing with when it comes to health insurance.
This includes people from my home state of Utah.
For example, one of my constituents, Mr.. Chris Secrist, wrote to me saying: “Since the new healthcare law was forced on us my premiums along with my deductibles have skyrocketed. With my premium, deductible and ‘out of pocket’ expense … my total out of pocket expense for insurance now tops $20,000 per year … can anyone … explain how this can be considered ‘affordable healthcare’?”
In addition, over the August recess, I met with the Utah Board of Directors of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and there I heard from many Utahns about the skyrocketing cost of care over the past three years. These constituents repeatedly emphasized that they had initially hoped that Obamacare would help them, but in their experience, it had only made things worse.
The downward spiral of Obamacare is a circle that cannot be broken without some kind of intervention. And, while there are a number of ideas out there to address these problems, there are really only two major paths we can take.
We can enact reforms that are patient-centered and market-driven OR we can expand the role of government in regulating, mandating, and, in the end, paying for more and more of our healthcare system.
Republicans in Congress, myself included, have proposed plans that would take us down the first path, toward more patient-centered reforms. Our friends on the other side, when they’re not doubling down on the dismal status quo under Obamacare, are advocating for even more government involvement.
Case in point, the Democrats’ nominee for President has outlined a number of “reforms” she’d like to add to the “progress we’ve made” under Obamacare. And, each of her proposals amounts to an expanded role for the federal government, including the renewed idea of the so-called “public option,” or a government-run plan.
In other words, in this election season, the Democrats’ answer to the failures of Obamacare is more government control of our healthcare system.
It’s funny, Mr. President. Beginning in 2009 when the health law was being finalized, I argued that Democrats intended to keep expanding the role of the federal government in healthcare to the point where they could argue that the only workable option, after a series of failures, would be to create a single-payer healthcare system.
Some pundits and even some of my colleagues declared that I was paranoid, that I was trying to scare people into opposing Obamacare.
Yet, seven years later, those claims look relatively prescient, if I do say so myself.
Faced with the failure of Obamacare to live up to its many promises, my colleagues aren’t arguing for a change in direction. Instead, they’re clamoring for more authority to dictate the terms of what had been a private healthcare marketplace. And, in a world where the government dictates both the products on the market and the prices at which they’re sold, the eventual result is a marketplace in which the government is the only available provider.
In other words, Mr. President, while many of my friends on the other side will deny that they want to create a single-payer healthcare system in the U.S., that is the direction they have us headed.
Fortunately, Mr. President, the march toward a single-payer system isn’t a fait accompli.
We can take action to right this ship now.
We can control costs.
We can take government out of the equation and give patients and consumers more choices.
Of course, to get there, more of my colleagues on the other side will have to acknowledge the failures of the current approach and agree on the need to plot a new course.
Perhaps, once the upcoming election is over, we can begin to make progress on these issues. It is my hope that, with the current administration in the rear-view mirror, people will be more willing to acknowledge the failures of the Obamacare status quo.
Of course, I recognize that the coming election might embolden those who support greater government involvement in the healthcare sector to try and take us further down the path toward a single-payer system.
If that’s the case, we’re looking at an even more contentious environment than the one we’re in now. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see more bipartisanship around here. I want us to find more opportunities to work together and to get past the blind partisanship that currently fuels so much of what we do here.
But, make no mistake, if the next administration or the next Congress tries to take us further down that path, they will have a fight on their hands. And, it’s a fight that I personally am prepared to win so that we can eventually have a healthcare system that works for everyone.
With that, I’ll yield the floor.
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