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September 18, 2014 | 23rd Elul 5774

Senator Ted Kennedy's Statement on Health Care for All by 2010

It is an honor to welcome the members of our committee and our distinguished witnesses to this initial session on the fundamental issue of how to help the nation’s families afford quality health care.

Following several productive roundtables convened by Senator Enzi last Congress, we are using this format today so we can allow for more discussion and to hear from a greater array of perspectives. We request that participants make very brief opening comments of no more than three minutes.

We have not required formal written statements, but participants are welcome to submit them if they wish to do so. The hearing record will be held open for 10 days. We will have an open discussion, while making sure that any Senator who wishes to speak will have ample opportunity to do so. In order to keep the dialogue moving, we request that all participants limit their responses to any question to one minute. If the need arises, we may vary the format a little to fit the discussion.

I’m grateful to Senator Enzi for his help and the help of his staff in putting this roundtable together. We look forward to continuing the bipartisan partnership that he established as Committee Chair. The Senate has not yet acted to make our Committee assignments “official”, but both Caucuses have made their selections. Many are returning to the Committee and we welcome their continued commitment to health care. We are delighted to be joined by several new Members – including Senators Obama, Sanders, Brown, Coburn, Murkowski and Allard.

Today's session is the first inquiry into this issue in the new Congress, but it will not be the last. In partnership with Senator Enzi, and with all our colleagues, we’ll do our best to develop proposals on how best to see that the promise of this new century of the life sciences reaches all Americans.

Members of the House and Senate have a guaranteed health plan for ourselves and our families. It’s time to provide the same guarantee for every man, woman and child in the nation.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Too many trends in health care are going in the wrong direction. Insurance coverage is down. Costs are up. And America is heading to the bottom of the league of major nations in important measures of the quality of care.

Ask people what keeps them awake most at night and many will tell you it’s how to afford health care for their families.

Ask companies what’s high on their list of problems in trying to compete in the global economy and they’ll say it’s the cost of health care.

Even ask our military leaders how our troubled health care system affects recruitment and therefore our national security. They’ll tell you that nearly 1 in 5 men and 2 out of 5 women of recruiting age are ineligible for military service because they're obese.

In family after family, community after community, business after business, citizens see our health care system struggling. They know that good, affordable care is less and less available.

Nearly 47 million Americans lack even basic coverage, and for tens of millions more, their coverage provides little help if major illness strikes. They often learn that truth too late, when bankruptcy results from massive bills their insurance doesn’t cover. Parents struggling to save a critically ill child find themselves mortgaging their homes, maxing out their credit cards, borrowing every dime they can. Even with health insurance, they still stand to lose everything they’ve worked for.

Costs are obviously heading in the wrong direction. National health spending has grown from 1.35 trillion dollars in 2000 to an estimated 2.3 trillion dollars this year- a trillion dollars more in less than a decade. Those aren’t just numbers, they're massive burdens for working families.

Health costs are threatening the livelihoods of millions of families because insurance premiums are rising four and half times faster than wages. Parents have to work longer hours and spend less time with their children, trying to keep pace with these rising costs.

Something is fundamentally wrong when our health system puts more stress on working families, not less. We need to find a solution in this Congress, so that every American has guaranteed access to quality care by the end of the decade.

Many of us have views on how best to address the crisis. I believe the right way is to extend the guarantee of Medicare to all Americans. Senator Enzi and others have advanced proposals to aid small businesses with the high cost of health care. Others on our committee have good ideas as well.

We should discuss all these ideas and we should pay close attention to the innovative solutions being tried in states across the country.

Last year, in Massachusetts, something remarkable happened. Patients and health professionals, business leaders and community advocates, members of the Democratic State legislature and Republican Governor Romney all rolled up their sleeves and worked together to enact a state health plan that put aside ideology and partisan divisions for the greater common good B affordable, accessible health care coverage for all the citizens of our Commonwealth.

It was fitting that the agreement reached was signed in Faneuil Hall, one of the great birthplaces of the American Revolution. In health reform, the Massachusetts plan is the shot heard round the country.

The same spirit of cooperation that led to our success at Faneuil Hall exists in Vermont, Illinois, Connecticut, California, and many other states across the nation where all parts of the community are beginning to come together to find solutions to the crisis. Yesterday Governor Schwarzenegger set the admirable goal of universal coverage for the citizens of California.

We must learn that lesson here in Washington. The need for action has never been more urgent, and the consequences of failure have never been more dire. I look forward to working with the committee and with our witnesses here today to achieve the success that's become so long overdue.

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