Senator Murray shares often overshadowed success stories of constituents from Bellingham, Orting, and Seattle; discusses Hobby Lobby case about to come in front of Supreme Court:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Tuesday, March 11, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered a speech on the Senate floor highlighting the success of the Affordable Care Act, focusing on the positive impact it has for women. Senator Murray outlined increased access to affordable insurance, benefits, and services for women and their families, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The Senator also discussed the efforts by private corporations to get in between a woman and her health, highlighting her work in leading the Senate's brief filed in the Hobby Lobby case. Senator Murray shared stories from a self-employed woman in Bellingham, a farmer in Orting, and a small business owner in Seattle, all of whom have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act.
'Four years ago, the insurance companies had all the leverage. And four years ago, too often, women were paying the price. Since the Affordable Care Act became law, women have been treated fairly with increased access to affordable health insurance, benefits and services,' said Senator Murray. 'While we can never stop working to make improvements, we owe it to the women of America to make progress and not allow the clock to be rolled back on their health care needs. Every American deserves to have access to high quality health care coverage regardless of where they work. And each of us should have the right to make our own medical and religious decisions without being dictated to or limited by our employers. Contraceptive coverage is supported by the vast majority of Americans who understand how important it is for women and families.'
Senator Murray's remarks as prepared:
'I'd like to take a moment to recognize our Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives - who last week cast the 50th vote in their efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. That's right - their 50th. And while I know it's tradition to gift gold in celebration of a 50th milestone - I'd instead like to gift my colleagues on the other side of the aisle with a reality check. More specifically, I'd like to talk about a certain group of people who arguably stand to lose the most if their antics continue. So, I've come to the floor today to set the record straight on the Affordable Care Act and how it is working for the women of America.
'It's not much of a stretch for me to say the Affordable Care Act is probably one of the most significant pieces of legislation for women in my lifetime. Not because of the battles we fought to get it to the President's desk. And, not necessarily, because of the size or scope of the law. But because of the tangible and positive impact it has had - and will continue to have - on the health and well-being of the women in America.
'Four years ago, health insurance companies could deny women care due to so-called pre-existing conditions - like pregnancy, or being a victim of domestic violence. Four years ago women were permitted to be legally discriminated against when it came to insurance premiums - and were often paying more for coverage than men. Four years ago women did not have access to the full range of recommended preventive care - like mammograms, prenatal screenings, and more. Four years ago, the insurance companies had all the leverage. And four years ago, too often, women were paying the price.
'That's why I am so proud to highlight just how far we've come for women over the past four years.
'Since the Affordable Care Act became law, women have been treated fairly: with increased access to affordable health insurance, benefits and services, deductibles and other expenses have been capped, so a health care crisis doesn't cause a family to lose their home or their life savings. Women can use the health care marketplaces to pick quality plans that work for them and their families, and if they change jobs or have to move, they are able to keep their coverage.
'And starting in 2012, we saw these benefits for women expand even further: additional types of maternity care are now covered and women are now armed with the proper tools and resources in order to take the right steps to have a healthy pregnancy. Women now have access to domestic partner violence screening and counseling, as well as screening for sexually transmitted infections. And now women finally have access to affordable birth control.
'As public servants, it's our job to help our constituents access the federal benefits available to them - particularly when it comes to health care. And since 80 percent of women are not only making health care choices for themselves, but also their families and loved ones - it's our responsibility to serve as a guide when it comes to understanding how to best access these benefits. That might mean putting them in touch with a Navigator to ensure they are getting the most affordable health insurance plan or making them aware of an enrollment event where they can get information on available coverage options. But our responsibilities don't end there.
'It's our job to have an open, honest discussion about what the Affordable Care Act means for our constituents and to talk about ways to responsibly improve it. Instead, as we saw in the House last week, others have spent the better part of the last four years trying to take away the critical benefits I just laid out and trying to score cheap political points on an issue that can literally mean the difference between life and death.
'I can understand why some of my colleagues disagree with certain parts of this law or maybe how it has been implemented, but what I can't understand is why anyone elected to Congress would decide to simply ignore real-life stories of their own constituents whose lives were changed the day this law took effect.
'People like Susan Wellman from Bellingham in my home state of Washington. Because Susan is self-employed, she has had to pay for individual insurance, and every year, she's watched her health care costs rise higher and higher. It got to the point where she was paying $300 monthly premiums, with an $8000 deductible all for a plan she described as 'paying for nothing.' So, as soon as Susan could access health care through the Washington state exchange, she jumped at the chance. Susan spoke on the phone with a real, live person, and she was able to sign up for an affordable plan in a matter of minutes. Now, Susan is on a plan that costs her $125 a month, instead of $300. It's a plan that has a $2000 deductible that she says actually pays for things. And guess what? She can afford to go to the doctor. Not just in the case of an emergency, but for a physical or a mammogram that could save her life - not to mention thousands and thousands of dollars in health care costs. That kind of preventive care is good for women like Susan. It's good for her family and it's also good for this country, because when more people have access to preventive care, it makes health care cheaper for every single one of us.
'It's also good for women like Carrie Little - a certified organic farmer from Orting, Washington. A few weeks ago, as she was working outside, one of the rams on her farm attacked her - leaving her with bruises and a broken leg. Fortunately - because of her new health plan - her visit to the emergency room was painless. Well, as painless as it could be with a broken leg. Her hospital bills, her cast and her visits to the orthopedic physician were paid in full. Until last year, Carrie had been spending half her income for a catastrophic-only health plan, forcing her to pay out-of-pocket for even the most basic of care. In a recent op-ed Carrie said, 'What a welcome relief that my new health plan covers preventive care, like mammograms, immunizations and yearly doctor visits. I can keep the primary care doctor I've been seeing for years. And I no longer worry about family members getting kicked around due to pre-existing conditions. Thank goodness. In agriculture, profits and losses shift like the weather, so for our community, it is crucial that health premiums stay affordable.'
'Or women like Ingrid Gordon - a small business owner from Seattle - who immediately enrolled in coverage when it became available. After an hour on the website, with minimal technical difficulties, Ingrid was enrolled and received her insurance card in the mail just a few days later. Since her coverage began on January 1, Ingrid had her first dental and physical exams in fourteen years, cured a skin disorder thanks to prescription medicine, scheduled a colonoscopy now that she's 50, and finally had her bothersome knee X-rayed. Now, all of these exams, visits and prescriptions would have cost Ingrid thousands - if not tens of thousands of dollars - out-of-pocket, just one year ago. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Ingrid paid a grand total of ZERO dollars in co-pay.
'Thanks to the Affordable Care Act women like Susan, Carrie and Ingrid are now fully in charge of their health care - not the insurance companies. That's why I feel very strongly that we can't go back to the way things were. While we can never stop working to make improvements - we owe it to the women of America to make progress and not allow the clock to be rolled back on their health care needs.
'But unfortunately, there are efforts underway all across the country - including here in our nation's capital - to severely undermine a woman's access to some of the critical and lifesaving services provided by the Affordable Care Act. And no provision of this law has faced quite as much scrutiny than the idea of providing affordable, quality reproductive health services to the women of America. We've seen attempt after attempt to eliminate access to abortion services and low-cost birth control, all while restricting a woman's ability to make personal decisions about her own care. I guess we shouldn't be surprised.
'The truth is that the tide of these politically-driven, extreme efforts continues to rise. In 2013, our nation saw yet another record-breaking year of state legislatures passing restrictive legislation barring women's access to reproductive services. In fact, in the past three years, the United States has enacted more of these restrictions than in the previous ten years combined. This means that now more than ever it is our job to protect these kinds of decisions for women, to fight for women's health, and to ensure that women's health does not become a political football.
'And for this reason, I was proud to lead members of my caucus in filing a brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. where a secular corporation, and its shareholders, are trying to get in between a woman and her health. And just like the many attempts before this case, there are those out there who would like the American public to believe that this conversation is anything BUT an attack on women's health care. To them, it's a debate about 'freedom,' except of course the freedom for women to access care.
'It's no different than when we are told that attacks on abortion rights aren't an infringement on a women's right to choose - they're about religion or state's rights. Or when we're told that restricting emergency contraception isn't about limiting women's ability to make our own family planning decisions - it's about protecting pharmacists. Or like just last week, when an Alaska state senator said he didn't think there was a compelling reason for the government to 'finance other people's recreation' in reference to contraception coverage in health care.
'In fact, after doing some 'research,' this state senator concluded that since birth control costs about 'four or five lattes' that the government should really have no reason to cover these costs for women.
'The truth is this IS about contraception. This IS an attempt to limit a women's ability to access care. This IS about WOMEN.
'Allowing a woman's boss to call the shots about her access to birth control should be inconceivable to all Americans in this day and age, and takes us back to a place in history when women had no voice or choice. In fact, contraception was included as a required preventive service in the Affordable Care Act on the recommendation of the independent, nonprofit Institute of Medicine and other medical experts because it is essential to the health of women and families. And after many years of research, we know ensuring access to effective birth control has a direct impact on improving the lives of women and families in America.
'We have been able to directly link to declines in maternal and infant mortality, reduced risk of ovarian cancer, better overall health outcomes for women, and far fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions - which is a goal we all should share. But what's at stake in this case before the Supreme Court is whether a CEO's personal beliefs can trump a woman's right to access free or low-cost contraception under the Affordable Care Act.
'Every American deserves to have access to high quality health care coverage regardless of where they work. And each of us should have the right to make our own medical and religious decisions without being dictated to or limited by our employers. Contraceptive coverage is supported by the vast majority of Americans who understand how important it is for women and families.
'In weighing this case my hope is that the Court realizes that women working for private companies should be afforded the same access to medical care, regardless of who signs their paycheck. We can't allow for-profit, secular, corporations or their shareholders to deny female employees' access to comprehensive women's health care, under the guise of a 'religious exemption.' It's as if we're saying that because you are a CEO or shareholder in a corporation, your rights are more important than your employees who happen to be women.
'That is a slippery slope that could lead to employers cutting off coverage for childhood immunizations, if they object to the idea, pre-natal care for children born to unmarried parents, if they thought that was wrong, or blocking an employee's ability to access HIV treatment.
'I was proud to be joined in filing the brief by 18 other Senators who were here when Congress enacted the religious protections through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 - and who were also here when Congress made access to women's health care available through the Affordable Care Act in 2010. They are Senators who know that Congress did not intend for a corporation - or furthermore, its shareholders - to restrict a women's access to preventive health care.
'And in the coming weeks, as the Supreme Court prepares to begin oral arguments in this case, these Senators - and our colleagues who support this effort - will echo these sentiments.
'Because we all know that improving access to birth control is good health policy and good economic policy. We know it will mean healthier women, healthier children and healthier families. And we know it will save money for businesses and consumers.
'But, I know many of our colleagues believe that repealing the Affordable Care Act and access to reproductive health services is a political winner for them.
'But the truth is, this law - and these provisions - are a winner for women, for men, for children - and for our health care system overall.
'So I am proud to stand with my colleagues who are committed to making sure the benefits of this law don't get taken away from the women of America -
'Because politics and ideology should not matter when it comes to making sure women get the care they need at a cost they can afford.'
Courtesy the Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
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