Augusta Free Press

Sen. Warner speaks out against nominee for HHS

This afternoon, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) spoke on the floor of the Senate in opposition to the nomination of U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to be Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). A vote on that nomination is expected to occur around 2am tonight.

“Today we consider a candidate for the Secretary of Health and Human Service, the lead Cabinet member who will oversee our critical health programs. Congressman Price has advocated for dismantling the ACA and made it clear that as Secretary of HHS, he would seek to implement policies that I believe will make healthcare more expensive and less accessible to Virginians,” Sen. Warner said on the floor.

During his remarks, Sen. Warner shared stories from Virginians who have benefited from being able to purchase insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act, and who stand to lose their access to affordable health coverage if the Administration and congressional Republicans proceed with a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act before a viable replacement is in place. He highlighted the ways that the Affordable Care Act have enabled Americans to start businesses or switch jobs without worrying about maintaining their healthcare coverage through an employer.

Sen. Warner has asked Virginians to share their Affordable Care Act success stories with him through his website or on social media using the hashtag #VAis4coverage.

Sen. Warner also pointed to the nominee’s votes against the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a bipartisan program that provides coverage to approximately 200,000 Virginia kids and pregnant women. As Governor of Virginia, Sen. Warner was honored by the nonprofit Kaiser Health Foundation for substantially improving enrollment in the program, which today provides 98 percent of children whose families are eligible with quality, low-cost health insurance.

A full transcript of Sen. Warner’s remarks follows.


Warner’s remarks

I did come here, though, today to rise and talk about a need that Virginians, and for that matter, Americans, have about a health care system that’s affordable and accessible, and provides high-quality care.

You know, I voted for the Affordable Care Act back in 2010. And I’ve acknowledged, I think along with many of us, that just like every major reform – just like Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid all before – Congress never gets it a hundred percent right the first time. And that Congress needed to revisit – and improve – certain aspects of the ACA. Of course, in any legislative body, you gotta have partners in order to ‘get to yes.’

And unfortunately, that’s what we’ve heard from folks on the other side for the last seven years. We’ve heard all the critiques, we’ve heard the screech of ‘repeal,’ but we’ve not heard any kind of plan on what you replace. The fact is, like or not, ACA has played a critical role in driving healthcare innovation, protecting consumers, and reducing overall healthcare spending. And those are just facts. Not alternative facts, not alt facts, just facts.

And the increased overage to more people makes it all the more difficult to find some way to repeal and maintain all the things that people like, yet replace it with a plan that is actually more cost-effective.

So today we consider a candidate for the Secretary of Health and Human Service, the lead Cabinet member who will oversee our critical health programs. Congressman Price has advocated for dismantling the ACA and made it clear that as Secretary of HHS, he would seek to implement policies that I believe will make healthcare more expensive and less accessible to Virginians.

Today, after a great deal of reflection, I join my colleagues in opposing Congressman Price’s nomination to be Secretary of HHS. And rather than going through the statistics and facts – and I know I’ve got other colleagues that want to speak – I want to just reflect, briefly, on a couple of stories I’ve heard from Virginians.

One of the things that is a benefit that I don’t think that folks have focused on enough on the ACA is that ACA, with all its challenges, did allow people freedom from the trap of being caught in a dead-end job that you couldn’t move from because of your fear of losing your healthcare benefits. This was the first move towards moving towards a portable benefits system – something I think that we’re going to have to move beyond healthcare, but to retirement and other aspects as well.

As more and more workers work not in traditional, full-time, long-term employment. But more and more – already, a third of the workforce today is in some form of contingent work. Part time work, independent contractors, gig work. And they have no benefits other than the fact that through ACA they were able to maintain healthcare.

The ACA has actually reduced this phenomenon of “job lock.”

A couple of weeks ago, I met Andrea in Richmond.

She had always dreamed of opening a software business, but both she and her business partner were considered uninsurable because of pre-existing conditions.

But the ACA changed everything – and after obtaining insurance through the exchanges, Andrea and her business partner were able to take that risk. Today, their successful business has a staff of twelve.

As Andrea said, quote, “Simply put, my business would not exist without the security of the Affordable Care Act.”

The coverage gains we have seen are remarkable – that’s clear from the hundreds of Virginians who’ve contacted me with stories like Andrea’s.

In fact, never before in our nation’s history has the rate of the uninsured dipped below 10 percent. In Virginia – a state where our legislature unfortunately wouldn’t expand Medicaid – we’ve still seen the uninsured rate dropped from 13 percent to 9 percent, and 327,000 Virginians got additional coverage.

This is especially true in rural areas. Nationwide, the ACA has lowered the percentage of uninsured by 8 points in rural communities – rural communities that often struggle with hospitals that without ACA would be on the brink of financial extinction.

Here’s another quick example, this one from Janet in Moseley – from a rural area south of Richmond – who grows and sells organic vegetables to support her family, which includes four children:

She said, quote, “We went through various attempts to manage the cost of health insurance and health care in our finances before the ACA — with no good results. [Because of ACA], we have been able to have an appropriate plan, with a realistic deductible, access to quality doctors, and be able to go to preventative care annual appointments. We are quite fearful about what life and business may become without the ACA. ACA repeal would be disastrous.”

Unfortunately, not only has Congressman Price strongly opposed the ACA, but his plan – or what framework of a plan we’ve seen, and other proposals — dramatically scale back the individual market reforms that allow people like Andrea and Janet to obtain meaningful coverage. As our workforce becomes more mobile than ever, Congressman Price has said people should have “access to care.” But access to care without affordable care isn’t true access.

For example, if we got rid of ACA without a plan to replace it, we’d see reinstatement of lifetime and annual limits on coverage. Those limits are what turned getting sick into a financial calamity for so many people.

Plans would be required to cover far less, in terms of conditions, moving away from the ACA’s promise that insurance is worth more than the paper it’s written on.

And, as I mentioned already, with close to a third of American workforce that’s already in some level of non-traditional work, who don’t work full-time in a long-term employment facility, would lose that flexibility to move from job to job.

We’ve also heard from Congressman Price plans to block grant, for example, Medicaid. We in Virginia have a very, very trim Medicaid program. We also have not expanded Medicaid, which I think was a grave mistake of the legislature. The Governor and I agreed, we should expand. Putting a block grant program in place for Virginia would be a disaster in terms of Medicaid.

As well, Congressman Price has voted against the Child Health Insurance Program, the CHIP program — one of the things that I was proud to expand in Virginia, and where we ended up signing up 98% of all eligible children. Congressman Price called the CHIP program, quote, “government-run socialized medicine.” What he didn’t say is, what do you say to the 200,000-plus kids in Virginia who get their coverage through CHIP?

So, I believe that Congressman Price’s approach – whether it’s on Medicaid block granting, whether it’s on ACA, whether it’s on the CHIP program, whether it’s his failure to come up with a sufficient plan that provides access and affordability – all mean that if we go forward with his nomination, the kind of chaos that would be created if you repeal ACA without a replacement plan in place, it will not only affect the 20 million-plus Americans who’ve got healthcare coverage through the ACA, but literally everyone else because it will absolutely pull the bottom out of the overall insurance market.

These are chances that we can’t take.