Senator Jon Tester's floor speech on health care reform

The following is Senator Jon Tester's floor speech on health care reform, prepared for delivery:

Come snow or sunshine, day or night, Mr. President, we are close to sealing the deal to change our country for the better.  To finally hold insurance companies accountable.  And to make health care affordable for all folks in this country.

Right now, we are all paying far too much for health insurance.  Many of us can’t get health insurance at all.  And even worse, insurance companies don’t always live up to their end of the bargain.

Sure, a lot of folks are happy with the health care they have.

Our doctors, our nurses and our hospitals and medical research are some of the best in the world.

But when you add it all up, many are paying too much for it.  Some are paying nothing for it.  Too many lives are lost.  Too much money is wasted.  And too many folks are falling through the cracks.

They’re calling out for help.  I’ve heard their voices.  Now I want you to hear their stories.  They’re ordinary folks who stand to lose everything unless we reform our health care system.

I support this health care reform bill because it saves lives.  It saves money.  It saves Medicare.  It’s tough on insurance companies—taking them to task to ensure affordable and fair coverage.

Mr. President, I have a perspective somewhat different than most of my friends here in the Senate.

I am—and always will be—a third generation Montana farmer.  My wife Sharla and I still operate our farm.
A farmer knows that we have some good years.  And we have some bad years.  I’ve had my share of bad years.  In fact, many years ago, not long after our first kid was born, Sharla and I had to give up health insurance to make ends meet.  We had no other choice but to hope and pray for our health and safety.  And for the health and safety of our child.

Thank God our prayers were answered.

Now, I have the honor of serving Montana in the United States Senate.

But my story is one of the thousands of real Montana families that were forced to wing it, rather than depend on a health care system that works.  And that holds insurance companies accountable.

I know of a woman from Ravalli, Montana, who cannot afford health insurance because of her pre-existing condition.  She and her husband got letters from their insurance company telling them their premiums were going up—$500, $600, to $700 per month.  Through no fault of their own, their insurance just became too expensive.  So they gave up.

This legislation will prevent that sort of nonsense in the insurance industry from happening.  In this bill, a health insurer’s participation in the exchanges will depend on its performance.

Insurers that jack up their premiums before the exchanges begin will not be included in those exchanges.  That’s a powerful incentive to keep premiums affordable.

Mr. President, we all have friends and relatives who aren’t fortunate enough to have a job where health insurance is part of the deal.  So they do what millions of others are forced to do:  they hope and they pray that they stay healthy.

We’ve got a problem in this country.  It’s time for a solution using common sense and fiscal responsibility.  And that’s why I’m going to vote for this health care reform bill.

So we can save lives.  Save money.  So we can save Medicare.  And so we can hold insurance companies accountable, so they don’t drop people when they're sick.  Or drive families into bankruptcy.

Because of tax credits, this bill is good for small businesses.  It gives eligible small businesses access to up to six years of tax credits.  That will help small businesses buy health insurance for their employees.

Because of tough new rules for the insurance industry, it’s good for families and it’s good for kids.

And because of common sense ideas like cross-state insurance markets, more competition, and more choices, it’s good for millions of Americans who—until now—have had to rely on luck, hope and prayer.

If we don’t pass this bill, our entire economy could fall apart beyond repair, Mr. President.  Right now we are working hard to rebuild our economy.  And it’s working. 

We are creating jobs and investing in the basic infrastructure needed to get our economy back out of the ditch. Fixing our broken health care system is part of that job.

Over the past few years, I have heard from thousands of Montanans telling me about the need to fix health care.

One of them is Roxy Burley.  Roxy owns a hair salon in Billings, Montana.

She just bought a home.  As all small business owners do, she works hard.  But she just can’t afford health insurance.  So, she says, she’s walking a tightrope.  Her home and business are on one side.  And her health care is on the other side.

If Roxy gets sick, she worries she’ll lose her home and her business.

In Montana, our economy relies on people like Roxy Burley—small business folks.  We can’t afford to have our economy walking a tightrope. 

In this bill, Roxy will be protected from losing her home and business.  Her annual out-of-pocket expenses are capped at no more than $5,950 per year.

Mr. President, I want to share another story.  It’s about Mindy Renfro.  She lives in Missoula, Montana.

Mindy got breast cancer not once.  Not twice.  Not three times.  But four times.  breast cancers.  Four different cancers.

The same cancer didn’t come back every time.  She got a different cancer each time.

The first two times, Mindy’s insurance paid for her treatment.  The third time, the insurance company called her and said, “We’re sorry, but we’re not going to pay.”

The underwriters, she says, determined her chances of survival were just too slim.  So instead they offered to send a hospice nurse.

Well, Mindy was a single mom in her early 40s.  And she was simply not ready to check out.  So she asked about her options.

She was told if she wanted to start chemo, she would have to come up with more than $100,000 in cash.  Her only option was to sell her home.

So Mindy and her children sold their home, packed up and moved out so she could start the treatment she needed to stay alive.

After many years of trying to repay that debt, Mindy recently declared bankruptcy.

I’ve heard many stories like this from folks in Montana that are in the same boat Mindy is in.  This isn’t good business.  This needs to stop.  And that’s why I support this health care reform bill.

I support it because under this bill, Mindy and people like her wouldn’t have had to declare bankruptcy.  She would have had insurance, despite her pre-existing condition of being a cancer survivor.  And her annual out-of-pocket expenses would have been capped at no more than $5,950 per year—not the $100,000 dollars in cash she needed just to start her cancer treatments.

This bill is strong and decisive.  And it’s tough on insurance companies, so they cannot say, “sorry, but no” when you get sick.   So they cannot say “sorry, but no” if you have a pre-existing condition.

Another story, Mr. President, about a former ranchers Dan and Pat Dejong. 

Dan and Pat used to own a cattle ranch in northwestern Montana.  The ranch had been in their family for four generations.

Dan and Pat couldn’t afford health insurance.  Then Dan was diagnosed with cancer.  To pay the bills, they had to make the painful decision to sell their ranch.

When a piece of land has been in the family for four generations,you get an attachment to that piece of land.  Nonetheless, Dan got cancer, they had to pay the bills, they sold the family ranch.

Under this bill, the Dejongs would have had access to subsidies so they could afford health insurance in the first place.  They never would have had to sell the ranch to pay the doctor’s bills.

I want to read you what Pat wrote about that experience.  She said—quote—“the cancer ravaged Dan’s body.  But selling our ranch to pay for medical costs broke his spirit.”

Dan Dejong lost his battle with cancer four years ago.  All his bills were paid.  Pat, however, still cannot afford health insurance.

Under this health care reform bill, getting sick won’t force folks like Dan and Pat Dejong to sell the land that has been in their family for generations. 

That’s because it limits the amount of money you would have to pay out of pocket at a rate you can afford based on how much you earn.

And that means no Americans would have to sell their homes – or their family ranches – to pay the medical bills.

I know a lot of folks already have health insurance.  And they’re wondering, “How is this going to affect me?”

Let be clear.  If you like your plan, you get to keep it.  If you don’t, you can look for a more affordable plan that works best for you and your family.

Everyone will have access to affordable health insurance. Right now those with health insurance are subsidizing those without it.

The other day I struck up a conversation with a trucker in Montana who told me, “I don’t need insurance.  I don’t want insurance.  I don’t get sick.”

I asked what happens if he gets into an accident?  Being a trucker, that’s always a possibility.

He said, “All I have to do is go to the emergency room where they take care of me, no questions asked.”

That’s exactly the problem, Mr. President. 

When everyone is insured, costs will go down.  Because no one will be paying extra to cover the folks who rely on the emergency room for health care they never pay for.

That’s just common sense.  It saves lives.  And it saves money.

Mr. President, I’ve been on the phone with tens of thousands of Montanans over the past few weeks answering questions about health care.  A lot of them want to know how we’re going to pay for this bill.  How much will it increase our debt?

It won’t increase our debt one thin dime.
In fact, it will lower our deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars. 

$132 billion dollars over the next 10 years alone.  And it reduces the deficit by even more in the decade after that.

The fact that this bill saves money is pretty important to me.

It doesn’t add to the deficit.  It cuts billions of dollars in government waste.  It requires a bigger chunk of your premiums to go directly to better health care instead of administrative costs and profits. 

And it saves money for families by lowering costs for everyone.

By limiting the amount of money you have to pay out of pocket for health care.

By emphasizing wellness and prevention—the low-hanging fruit of health care reform.

And by holding insurance companies accountable, so we don’t pay more than our fair share for the health care we need.

Mr. President, when you turn on the TV these days, or open a newspaper, you see all sorts of spin about this health care reform bill and Medicare.

It amazes me how distorted the facts have become.  I’ve read the bill.  The plain-as-dirt fact is it makes Medicare stronger.

All guaranteed Medicare benefits stay just as they are.  They’re guaranteed.  Seniors are guaranteed to keep benefits like hospital stays, access to doctors, home health care, nursing homes and prescription drugs.

How do we make Medicare stronger? 

We make it stronger by getting rid of wasteful spending.  By making prescription drugs for seniors more affordable.  And by spending your money smarter.

Without this bill, Medicare will be on the rocks within a matter of years.

If we don’t fix it now, it will go broke, leaving entire generations in the lurch.  Millions of Americans have worked hard all their lives for Medicare benefits.  They’ve earned it.

That’s why we’re making Medicare better, not worse.  That’s common sense.

The same goes for VA health care.  This bill does not affect VA health care or Tricare.

I serve on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  Over the past three years, we’ve made good progress living up to the promises made to our veterans.  We still have a lot of work to do.  But this health care reform legislation takes us forward even further for America’s veterans.

Finally, this bill preserves some the most important parts of quality health care: the relationship between you and your doctor.  And the freedom of choice you have as a patient.

In Montana, as in many parts of this country, we don’t tolerate the government snooping around our private lives.  Or making personal decisions for us.  Health care is no exception.

This health care reform bill not only saves lives, saves money, and saves Medicare, it keeps the government out of the exam room.  And the waiting room.
Mr. President, I go home to Montana just about every weekend to visit with folks and hear what’s on their minds. 

I meet with doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, and regular folks from all over the state to hear their concerns.

Everywhere I go, health care is the number one issue.  And it’s clear that the worst option is to do nothing at all.  If that happens, insurance companies won’t be held accountable.

Health care costs will continue to break families as costs will go up.  And people who need treatment to stay alive won’t get it.

I know a fellow farmer who works some land back in Montana.  When he got sick, he too had to sell off entire chunks of his family farm to pay the bills—piece by piece.

And piece by piece, we watched as he made painful sacrifices for his health care.  Piece by piece, his livelihood was broken apart.

No American deserves that.

People are calling out for help, because a lot of folks are falling through the cracks.

I say to them: we’re listening.  We hear you.  And we’re doing something about it.

This is a good bill.  It’s a bill I support.  It will allow all Americans to get the health insurance they have needed and that insurance will be affordable.

It’s the result of a lot hard work, and working together to do what’s right for this country.  For America’s rural families, seniors, veterans, small businesses and family farms and ranches, the people of this country deserve no less.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.