Neal Opening Statement at Markup of Health Bills and Trade Resolution of Inquiry
(As prepared for delivery)
Mr. Chairman, I know that the bills before us today have bipartisan support. Some are even issues of longstanding interest to our members. But I think we should recognize that these bills will do little to actually improve the everyday lives of Medicare beneficiaries, who face skyrocketing health care costs.
Mr. Levin has a bill to add dental, vision, and hearing coverage to Medicare. Under current law, beneficiaries almost exclusively bear the burden for these costs – and it can be significant, especially for those on fixed incomes. But after two years, we have yet to even have a hearing on the issue.
The Republican policies including the tax law drained three years from the life of the Medicare Trust Fund, yet this Republican Congress seems to be ignoring that issue.
So while we are marking up these bills today, we should all remember the bigger and more important issues that are being ignored – issues that, if resolved, would improve the lives of millions of Medicare beneficiaries.
Of the four health bills today, there is one that I have concerns with, and that is the bill relating to smart card use in Medicare. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued two reports over the last few years that indicate that smart card technology will have little effect in the fight against Medicare fraud – and at great cost to the program and burden to providers. While I appreciate the interest in fighting fraud, the $40 million for this demonstration would likely be better spent in the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control (HCFAC) account, where, for every dollar spent on health care-related fraud and abuse investigations in the last three years, the government recovered $4.20 – equaling $31 billion over the life of the fraud program.
I would be remiss not to mention that while we are holding this mark-up, a judge in Texas is hearing a case that could once again allow insurance companies to discriminate against the one in four Americans with pre-existing conditions. Republicans argued their tax bill would not harm people with pre-existing conditions. But the tax law eliminates the penalty for the individual mandate which is the cornerstone of the argument to overturn the Affordable Care Act protections. The Trump Administration decided to not defend the consumer protections in the ACA and act against Americans with pre-existing conditions. All this could have been prevented. But Republicans and the Trump Administration chose this path of undermining consumer protections and raising costs on American families.
We are also considering today a Resolution of Inquiry that Mr. Pascrell has introduced. It would require the Administration to provide to the House documents and others materials related to the President’s decision to deviate from Commerce Department recommendations in imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports; the Administration’s strategy in negotiating with China to resolve its concerns about China’s forced technology transfer and IP theft policies; and plans made by the Administration to offset the harms caused by retaliatory tariffs.
This resolution seeks accountability from the Administration to the House of Representatives, and the American people, for the trade policies it is implementing. It is easy to forget these days that the Constitution places authority for matters of trade in the hands of the Congress and not the executive. This resolution demands from the Administration respect for Congress’s primary role in trade. This is important any time, but especially now, when the President feels comfortable casually tweeting threats that Congress should not “interfere” with trade negotiations.