Let me thank everyone for being here today and for standing up for justice, decency and dignity. Let me also thank you for standing up for democracy and for demanding that the United States government represent all of us, and not just the 1 percent.
Let me thank the groups who have helped co-sponsor this event, especially Mountaineers for Progress.
Let me thank all of those who have already spoken and told you what this disastrous legislation would do to them and their loved ones. It takes a lot of courage to get up here in front of a large crowd, and in front of hundreds of thousands who will see this live-streamed across the country, and talk about very personal issues – and there’s nothing more personal than one’s own health problems. But they did it. And I thank them for doing that because the issues they raised today are not just about them, but the lives of people all across this state and this country. Today, those who have gotten up here to speak are speaking for millions of Americans.
Let me be clear. I understand that Donald Trump, during his campaign, told the people of West Virginia, the people of Vermont and the people of the United States that he was going to be a champion of the working class. That he was going to stand up for those who are hurting, for those who are struggling – and that he would fight for their interests.
Well, I am sorry to have to tell you what most of you already know. He was not telling you the truth. The so-called “health care” bill passed in the House last month, strongly supported by President Trump, is the most anti-working class legislation ever passed in the modern history of our country and the Senate bill, also supported by Trump, in some respects is even worse. At a time when working families in West Virginia, Vermont and throughout this country are struggling to survive, when many people are working longer hours for lower wages, this legislation will cause devastating harm to millions of our families from one end of this country to the other.
We are gathered here today to make one simple point. And what we are saying, as clearly as we can, is that we will not allow 22 million Americans to be thrown off of the health insurance they currently have in order to give over $500 billion in tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent of this country, and to profitable drug companies and to other large health care corporations. Plain and simple, this so-called “health care” bill is nothing more than a massive transfer of wealth from working families to the very rich. While there are massive cuts to Medicaid, while seniors will pay far more in premiums, while Planned Parenthood will be defunded – the 400 highest – income taxpayers, most of whom are billionaires, will get about $33 billion in tax cuts.
At a time the middle class in this country continues to shrink and when families in West Virginia, Vermont and across this country are struggling to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to pay the rent, to save a few bucks for retirement we will not be part of a process which takes from working class families in order to give even more to the very rich – people who are already doing phenomenally well. That is not what America is supposed to be about.
And let me say to my colleague Shelley Moore Capito, someone I have known for many years. Senator Capito: In America we’re not supposed to take from the most vulnerable people in our country – the children, the elderly, the disabled and the sick – in order to give massive tax breaks to billionaires. This is a deeply immoral piece of legislation. Senator Capito: Please join your fellow West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and vote NO when this bill comes before us in the Senate in the next week or two.
It is no secret that the Republican leadership is scrambling to get the 50 votes they need from out of the 52 Republican members who are in the Senate. No member of the Democratic caucus is going to vote for this bill. If 3 Republican senators, only 3, vote NO, this bill is dead. My strong belief is that if Senator Capito votes NO on this legislation it will make all the difference and the Republicans will not have the votes to pass it. It will be defeated.
Not only is this bill a disaster for West Virginia, Vermont and the entire country, but the secretive, backroom process by which it has been written is literally beyond belief. This bill impacts one-sixth of our economy, over $3 trillion dollars each and every year, and touches upon virtually every person in our country. Yet the discussions and negotiations on this legislation, which I am sure are taking place in Washington right now, have never been made public. Everything has been done behind closed doors.
Unbelievably, there have been no doctors, no nurses, no hospital administrators, no representatives of senior citizen groups, no one one knowledgeable about the opioid crisis who has testified about the impact that this legislation will have on our country. How can you draft a bill of such enormous magnitude without hearing one public comment from the experts in our country who are most knowledgeable about health care? How can you go forward without one public hearing?
What we do know is that in order to pass this legislation the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is now trying to make side-deals in order to win votes. He is reaching out to this Republican senator and that Republican senator in order to sweeten the pot and get their votes. I say to Senator Capito: Please do not fall for that old trick. This legislation is fatally flawed and no small tweak here or there will undo the massive damage that it will cause to West Virginia and the entire country.
Further, I say to Senator Capito: If you don’t believe what I am saying in terms of how bad this bill is, listen to virtually every major healthcare organization in this country – all of which oppose this terrible bill. Listen to the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the Catholic Health Association, the American Lung Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the March of Dimes, the National MS Society, and the American Nurses Association. All of them oppose this legislation, and you should too.
Several months ago, as you know, with the strong support of President Trump, the House passed their disastrous health care bill. While the Senate bill is very similar, let me describe to you exactly what the House bill actually does.
At a time when 28 million Americans today have no health insurance and millions more are under-insured with high deductibles and co-payments, that bill would throw 23 million Americans off of the health insurance they currently have – including 122,000 right here in West Virginia. That would bring the number of uninsured in our country to over 50 million people. In other words, instead of trying to lower the number of uninsured in our country, this bill almost doubles the number.
Everyone knows that the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect. Our job now is to improve it, not destroy it. Further, instead of throwing 23 million Americans off of health care, we should be fighting to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee healthcare to all people as a right not a privilege.
I want all of you to think for a moment about the implications of this bill and what it means if you, your child or your parent loses the health care that one of you has. Think about it for a moment.
What does it mean if you are suffering today with cancer, heart disease, asthma, or diabetes – and you have no health insurance? You had health insurance but it was suddenly taken away from you. What happens to you when you cannot afford to go to the doctor when you are sick or buy the medicine that you need? What happens if you have a heart attack or a stroke and you have no Insurance?
And the horrible and unspeakable answer is that, if this legislation were to pass, many thousands of our fellow Americans will die and many more will suffer and become much sicker than they should. That’s not Bernie Sanders talking. That’s what study after study after study shows.
Several weeks ago, after I made that point on a TV show, I was criticized by Republicans and right wing critics. PolitiFact, a non-partisan group that checks out what public officials say, took a look at over ten different studies on the issue of mortality rates and lack of insurance coverage and concluded that what I said was right. Obviously, nobody can tell you exactly how many people will die if they lose their coverage. What experts at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate, however, is that if 23 million are thrown off of health insurance, as the House bill does, up to 28,000 could die every year – nine times more than the tragic loss of life on 9/11 – each and every year. In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we must not allow that to happen.
Let me tell you what happens when you cut Medicaid by over $800 billion nationwide over a 10-year period and by $12 billion in West Virginia.
What it means is that if you are child with a severe disability you will no longer get the health care that you need to adequately function. An estimated 11 million children, or 15 percent of all children in the U.S., have special health care needs. They may have conditions such as Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, Muscular Dystrophy or autism. They may have mental health needs such as depression or anxiety, or complications from premature birth. Today, Medicaid and CHIP cover 5 million, or 44 percent of these children, providing them with coverage so that many of them can live in dignity and security. In West Virginia, Medicaid and CHIP cover 47 percent of children with special needs in West Virginia.
In addition to standard health care services, Medicaid helps these children get special education at school, long-term care, personal assistance from nurses and attendants, and may cover technology that helps them thrive.
If Medicaid is cut, children with special health care needs could be left to fend for themselves. Nearly 75 percent of children with special health care needs live in low or middle income families. What happens to these kids and their families?
Further, it is not just the disabled kids who will suffer, it’s the whole family. If parents cannot get the help they need to take care of their kids, they might have to reduce their work hours or stop working altogether in order to stay home with their child, further driving them into poverty.
What kind of country are we when anyone could think about cutting help to disabled kids in order to give tax breaks to billionaires?
But, it’s not just children who will suffer if this bill is passed. It is the elderly. What every person in West Virginia should understand is that Medicaid now pays for over two-thirds of all nursing home care. What happens to the 7,000 seniors and persons with disabilities in West Virginia who have their nursing home coverage paid for by Medicaid today? Who will pay for their care if Medicaid is slashed? How many seniors now in nursing homes will get thrown out on the street or be forced to live in their children’s basement? How many middle class and working class families will have to now choose between taking care of their parents or sending their kids to college?
But it’s not just nursing home care that will be severely impacted. Remember. Donald Trump told the American people that he was going to be a friend of the working class. Well, if you are a worker today in Morgantown who is 60 years old and you make $40,000 a year, your average health insurance premiums will go up from about $4,000 a year now to nearly $8,000 per year under the Republican plan – almost double.
At a time when half of Americans 55 and older have no retirement savings this would cause disastrous harm for millions of people who have worked their entire lives. This is what the AARP, the largest senior group in America says:
“This new Senate bill was crafted in secrecy behind closed doors without a single hearing or open debate—and it shows. The Senate bill would hit millions of Americans with higher costs and result in less coverage for them.
“AARP is adamantly opposed to the Age Tax, which would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans five times more for coverage than everyone else while reducing tax credits that help make insurance more affordable.”
“As we did with all 435 Members of the House of Representatives, AARP will also hold all 100 Senators accountable for their votes on this harmful health care bill. Our members care deeply about their health care and have told us repeatedly that they want to know where their elected officials stand. We strongly urge the Senate to reject this bill.” [The Hill, June 22, 2017]. That’s not Bernie Sanders. That’s an AARP statement from a few days ago.
I want to now say a word about an issue that is incredibly painful for Vermont, for our country and especially difficult for the beautiful state of West Virginia.
I know that I don’t have to tell anyone here that we have a massive and horrific opioid epidemic that is devastating communities all over this country – and that is particularly bad here in West Virginia.
Each and every day more than 90 people die in America from an opioid overdose, nearly 4,000 people begin abusing prescription painkillers, and almost 600 start using heroin.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia’s drug overdose death rate is the highest in the nation – nearly three times the national average. In West Virginia, on average, one person died from drugs every 10 hours in 2016. Eighty-five percent of those deaths involved an opioid.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “Drugs are killing so many people in West Virginia that the state can’t keep up with the funerals.”
At a time when the state is estimating it has 150,000 residents with an opioid disorder and only 156 detox beds to serve them, clearly the resources available for treatment and prevention today are totally inadequate for this state, and that’s true for the nation as well.
What we must understand is that Medicaid pays for about 45 percent of all addiction treatment in the State of West Virginia – 45 percent. If you cut Medicaid by nearly $800 billion nationally over a ten-year period, it will mean massive cuts here in West Virginia that will result in some 17,000 people not getting the treatment they desperately need to deal with their addiction.
Our job is to develop a comprehensive program to expand treatment and prevention, not throw some 17,000 people in this state off the treatment they need. We should be dramatically increasing funds to address this crisis, not cutting nearly $800 billion from Medicaid.
Further, this legislation denies 2.5 million women the health care they need by defunding Planned Parenthood. What this means is that the Planned Parenthood health center in Vienna could be forced to close leaving nearly 900 patients without the care they desperately need. Unacceptable!
Brothers and sisters: Each and every day, I receive letters and e-mails from people in my state of Vermont and throughout the country who have told me what would happen to them if this disastrous bill becomes law.
Here’s one from a mother who wrote: “My adult son has Down’s Syndrome. He can barely get by with what few Medicaid services are available now. Please don’t punish my son for needing these services.”
Here’s one from a father who says: “TrumpCare will allow insurance companies to deny health insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. In my family, this could disqualify my son, born with a defective heart valve, who must have costly open-heart transplant surgery to get a new valve every 10 to 14 years … and my grandchild with genetic hearing loss.”
Another letter: “I’m 38. I’m well educated and had a great job. But I developed chronic migraine. I am so disabled, I can no longer work. I just qualified for Medicaid. It will be my lifeline as I fight daily pain and other debilitating symptoms. If the bill passes, I fear that it will become a choice between draining my family’s financial resources—even facing bankruptcy—so that I can continue to access the limited medical treatments I have that help my condition, or lose insurance altogether. I do not want to let my family go bankrupt. This law is not health care and if it passes, people will suffer and die. I can personally attest to that.”
Another letter: “I am a psychologist. Most of my patients, many of them dealing with the experiences of autism, trauma, eating disorders, and/or anxiety, can only receive services because they are covered by health insurance. This disastrous bill could allow insurance companies to deny coverage for mental health diagnoses, making it very difficult for the bulk of my patients to access services.”
My friends: This legislation is not what the American people want. Poll after poll shows overwhelming opposition. According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, just 16 percent of the American people believe that this legislation is a good idea.
As a matter of fact, according to a recent report this is the most unpopular piece of legislation in at least the last 3 decades – which coming from this Congress – really takes a lot of work to accomplish. It is more unpopular than the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. It is even more unpopular than George W. Bush’s legislation to privatize Social Security! Millions of Americans stood up and fought back to defeat that disastrous bill – and we can and we must do the same to defeat the Trump-McConnell “health care bill!
And not only are the overwhelming majority of the American people opposed to this legislation, it is also opposed by virtually every major organization in this country representing seniors, doctors, nurses, hospitals, women, and consumers.
You all know what’s going on in America today. You know that over the last 40 years, the great middle class of this country has been in decline and that today we have more income and wealth any inequality than any other major country on earth. Today in America, unbelievably, the top 0.1 percent now own nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent and the gap between the very rich and everybody else is growing wider and wider.
When workers in West Virginia are working two or three jobs to stay alive, when they are working 50, 60 or 70 hours a week to pay the bills, you don’t take away their healthcare benefits to give tax breaks to billionaires.
Let me conclude by saying this. A great nation is not judged by the number of billionaires it has, or by the tax breaks they receive. It is judged by how we treat the most vulnerable amongst us: the children, the sick, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. This bill is a moral outrage. It must be defeated.
We should not be paying the highest prices in the world per capita for health care. We should not be paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. We should have the guts to take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and move toward a Medicare for All, single payer system.
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