Chairman Diane Black Opening Statement: Markup of the American Health Care Act

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning and welcome to this markup at the House Budget Committee. We are here today to act on the American Health Care Act. This bill seeks to address one of the most fundamental policy challenges that we face: how to reduce the cost of health care and give all Americans access to quality care.

This is something House Republicans have talked about for years, and the opportunity is finally here to fulfill our promise to the American people. Under the leadership of Speaker Ryan, this body began to formalize an approach for patient-centered health care under our “Better Way” plan. 

The “Better Way” plan outlined our philosophy for health care reform. We need to take control of health care decisions away from the government and give it back to patients and doctors. We need to reduce costs and ensure that everyone has access to quality care. And we need to reform and allow states to modernize government programs like Medicaid to strengthen them and ensure they provide for the people they were intended to help. 

That’s what this bill does. 

The American Health Care Act provides for portable, monthly tax credits not tied to a job or a Washington-mandated program. This provides more flexibility to Americans who don’t currently have insurance through their employer and would lower costs by increasing competition and choice. 

This bill also provides for more insurance options by allowing individuals and families to buy the insurance plan they need and want at a price they can afford. It is not the job of the government to tell all Americans exactly what type of insurance coverage they should purchase. Our plan allows for people to choose the plan that best meets their needs and increases the amount of money that can be placed in Health Savings Accounts to ensure that individuals and families can spend and save their health care dollars the way they want. 

The American Health Care Act is also a once-in-a-generation entitlement reform. Medicaid spending is growing out of control. This bill reforms and modernizes Medicaid for the 21st Century. Reforming the program and giving States greater flexibility to make the program fit the needs of their citizens will protect the program and make sure it is available for the populations it was intended to serve. After all, the issues they face in California are very different from the issues we face in Tennessee. Most importantly, this bill protects our most vulnerable citizens. 

In total, this bill reduces the deficit by $337 billion over ten years and lowers taxes by $883 billion over that same time period for individuals and small business owners. At the same time, premiums will decrease by 10 percent by 2026.

This legislation is a conservative vision for free-market, patient-centered health care. It dismantles Obamacare’s mandates and taxes. It puts health care decisions back in the hands of patients and doctors, where they belong. And as a nurse, I know how important that is. 

This is the conservative health care vision that we’ve been talking about for years. And it is our response to the outcry from our constituents to rescue them from Obamacare. 

To my Republican colleagues who have doubts today, I encourage you: Don’t cut off discussion. Stay in this effort and help us enhance this proposal by advancing it out of committee and pushing for further conservative reforms. Members who desire to see this bill improved have every right to make their voices heard.

We are united in our goal: to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered health care. Right now, Obamacare is imploding. We were promised premiums would decrease by $2,500; instead, average family premiums in the employer-market soared by $4,300. We were promised health care costs would go down; instead, deductibles have skyrocketed. We were promised we could keep our doctor and our health insurance plans; instead, millions of Americans lost the insurance and the doctors that they liked. 

In short, the Affordable Care Act was neither affordable nor did it provide the quality of care that the American people deserve. 

But we also have to remember that the problems with Obamacare are not merely numbers on a page. I’ve been a nurse for 45 years. I saw the impact in the 1990s of a government-run, single-payer health care system had on people during the TennCare pilot program in Tennessee. I saw costs rise and the quality of care fall. It’s what inspired me to get involved in public service in the first place. 

And when I saw the same broken principles applied to health care on a national level with Obamacare, I felt compelled to bring my voice and my experience to Congress. 

I get calls every single day in my office saying please help us, rescue us. Premiums in my state of Tennessee have increased 60 percent. There are parts of Tennessee that don’t have a single insurance provider in the marketplace while in other parts of my state, people may have an insurance card but they can’t get care. 

Jenny W., a resident of my district, reached out to say that her family’s insurance premiums rose from $340 a month to $860 a month. “Health insurance shouldn’t cost the same as a mortgage payment,” she said. 

George C. from Westmoreland, Tennessee reached out to my office to say that this will be the first year since he was very young that he would not be able to afford health insurance. Before Obamacare, he was paying $458 a month for health insurance. This year, his premium will cost $1,160 a month.  

He said “please do something, anything to work and help this situation.” During a recent teletown hall with over 8,000 residents of my district, more than 70 percent surveyed said Obamacare had a negative impact or no positive impact on their life. 

These are the real stories of real people who have been negatively impacted by Obamacare. These stories are the reason I was drawn to public service in the first place. We have a chance to truly fix the problems that are ailing our healthcare system, and I cannot sit idly by and let this opportunity pass. 

We made a promise to the American people to repeal this law and replace it with patient-centered health care reforms where Americans can have the health insurance they want and need at a price they can afford. This bill is a good first step. 

But it’s not all that we’re doing. My good friend and former Chairman of this committee, Dr. Tom Price, now Secretary of HHS, has already begun the process of rolling back the burdensome regulations and federal requirements enacted by Obamacare. That process will continue as Secretary Price works to dismantle the regulatory regime that’s putting government in between patients and their doctors and driving up the cost of coverage. 

At the same time, I look forward to future legislation, which addresses issues that cannot be included in reconciliation. These pieces of legislation will provide a more robust and competitive marketplace to bring down health care costs for all Americans. 

Already, my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee and the Education and Workforce Committee are working on separate pieces of legislation that will foster greater competition among health care insurers, that will implement significant medical malpractice reforms, and that will allow small businesses to band together through association health plans and negotiate lower costs for their employees. 

This is our three-pronged approach to delivering patient-centered health care reform. The American Health Care Act is a strong first step in this process. It secures key conservative victories to lower costs and put patients back in charge of their health care decisions, while ushering in the most significant reforms to entitlement programs in decades. 

In accordance with the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, the Budget Committee plays an important role in combining the legislation from the Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means Committees into a single bill as was outlined in the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Resolution. I want to thank the committees who helped draft this legislation for their efforts and I look forward to today’s mark up. 

I strongly support this bill. I urge all of my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to work with us to pass this important piece of legislation and bring relief to the American people.

Thank you. And with that, I yield to the ranking member, Mr. Yarmuth.