Mr. REED. First, I wish to begin by recognizing the extraordinary leadership of majority leader Harry Reid, Chairman Baucus, Chairman Dodd, and Chairman Harkin to get us to this point.
Commonsense and cost-effective health care reform is now the law of the land. The question before the Senate now is whether we will make some important improvements to that reform or whether we will respond to the wishes of the insurance industry and others who want to preserve a broken status quo of higher premiums and dwindling coverage for middle-class families.
Yesterday, President Obama signed into law a health insurance reform bill that will cut the deficit by $143 billion over the next 10 years, ensure that health insurance companies actually provide Americans with the coverage that they pay for, and preserve Medicare for our senior citizens. That is no small achievement, and it would be a tragedy if the other side of the aisle persists in its effort to defeat health care reform by seeking to delay and up-end the package of improvements in the bill that we are now debating.
It sometimes gets lost in the heated rhetoric of the other side, but under the status quo, the healthy are faced with ever-increasing costs and the ill are denied care, dropped from coverage, and prevented from purchasing coverage. The new health insurance reforms will provide relief for every American. Indeed, under the law just signed by President Obama, these five reforms will take place by the fall of next year:
No child will be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition.
Small businesses will receive a 35-percent tax credit to purchase insurance for their employees.
Seniors on Medicare who confront the doughnut hole will receive additional assistance.
Health insurers will be required to spend more of their premium revenues on clinical services, with less going to administrative costs and profits, or else they must pay a rebate to policy holders.
And our State's Community Health Centers will receive a boost in Federal resources.
Rhode Islanders will particularly welcome this relief. Just last week, Rhode Islanders learned that health insurance premiums in the State will go up 10 percent this year. In the same week, they also received news that as many as 21 percent of individuals in the State will be without insurance sometime during this year. This is double the rate of uninsured just 10 years ago.
In Rhode Island, these two headlines, coupled with an unemployment rate of nearly 13 percent, have caused a perfect storm.
As the economy took jobs away from Rhode Islanders, it also took away their health insurance. The healthy hoped not to get sick, the sick started showing up in hospital emergency rooms, and those who still had access to insurance stopped being able to afford it.
Hospitals in Rhode Island can no longer shoulder the burden of the uninsured. Community health centers in Rhode Island can no longer shoulder the burden of the uninsured. Indeed, the economy can no longer shoulder the burden of the uninsured.
Today we are considering a bill that makes further improvements to the health insurance reform law. Indeed, these are changes that Americans have consistently said they want, and that is why we should support this bill. It is also why I intend to oppose the legislative maneuvers from the other side of the aisle. They are interested in overturning the reform of our health care system, reforms which have replaced the costly status quo with a system based on more competitive markets. They are in favor of a system where the whim of insurance companies rule. They are in favor of a health care system in which costs continue to rise at astronomical rates each year for families and for businesses.
It may be politically heartening for the other side to try and slow down reform through a series of repetitive amendments, but I think Rhode Islanders and all Americans want us to pass the bill because it contains straightforward proposals.
First, this reconciliation bill, as it is known, would eliminate the so-called Corn-Husker kickback, which would have created an entirely inappropriate Medicaid reimbursement system exclusively for one State. Gone too are other provisions that would have unfairly supported some States and not others.
Second, this bill begins the process of closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap, also known as the doughnut hole, which requires seniors to pay more for their medications than they ordinarily would. This year seniors would receive $250 when they enter the doughnut hole and pay less for drugs they purchase once they enter this coverage gap.
Third, at a time when so many of us are worried about government spending, this bill does more to reduce the budget deficit so that we can save up to $1.3 trillion in the next two decades. Those are real savings. I find it ironic that some on the other side oppose them.
Fourth, the bill makes sure the so-called Cadillac tax, which was intended to affect the most expensive health care plans, is reduced by 80 percent so that it hits its intended targets, not middle-class families.
Fifth, the bill recognizes that we should do even more to help struggling families afford health insurance, and so it provides new tax breaks to help make coverage more affordable.
As I said, in the next few days my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are expected to file and attempt to offer numerous amendments to this bill. These are tactics that are purely dilatory. That is, again, another reason I will oppose the amendments. Some of these amendments may seem as though they are common sense, but each one is designed for the purpose of derailing this legislation, of sending it back to the House, of undercutting the most significant reform of health care in the last several decades.
But there is another aspect to this legislation which is vitally important; that is, the improvement to the student support system for higher education. It is the dream of every parent that their child will have a better life, and a big part of that dream is that they will have the opportunity to go on to college or even an advanced degree. This bill ends the student aid system that gives away billions of Federal subsidies to private banks, including some that helped create the 2008 financial meltdown, and instead puts those taxpayer dollars directly into the hands of students to pay for their education.
During this economic down turn, paying for college has become all the more difficult for many families in Rhode Island and across the Nation. Like health care, one of the top concerns of families as they sit around their kitchen tables during these difficult times is how they will pay for their child's education. The key to ensuring our Nation's economic stability and progress is also providing access to education. It is the engine that moves people forward. It is what expands our capacity and our capabilities in a complex world.
Now we have the opportunity so that we can, in fact, provide additional assistance through Pell grants, and we can do it by saving money from bank subsidies and reinvesting that in Pell grants. Approximately $42 billion will be freed up; over $35 billion will be committed to Pell grants. It will be expanded to additional recipients, and the maximum grant will increase to nearly $6,000. We will also provide in Rhode Island $7.5 million for information so that families and students can locate the best arrangements for their college education, for their financial aid. It will also invest $2 billion in community colleges, which have become a central part of our educational system, particularly for those people who are transitioning into the workforce or through the workforce.
One final point: It is particularly fitting that we are investing in the Pell grant, named after my predecessor Senator Claiborne Pell. His vision to give people the opportunity to higher education and then to stand back and watch them do great things has been legitimized and vindicated over 30 years. I don't think Senator Pell foresaw the Internet. I don't know how much he used it even when it arrived. But he knew if we gave people the skills and talents, they would do great things. They have done great things.
With this legislation, they will do even more.
I yield the floor.