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Ranking Member Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on HHS 2018 Budget Request

June 8, 2017
Press Release

(Remarks as prepared)

Thank you Chairman Brady. Secretary Price, I guess this is a bit of a homecoming for you. I am glad you are able to join us today.

Mr. Chairman, I understand how valuable the Secretary’s time is. I hope you will give Members the latitude to talk about anything they would like in the three minutes they have been allotted.

I want the American people to understand the impact of the HHS budget before us today. It cuts so many programs on which middle-class families rely that I would go over my allotted time if I described all of them. It goes against every promise President Trump made and instead would cut programs that help middle-class families, both old and young, across the United States.

For example, cuts to Medicaid would put at great risk health insurance for kids, long-term care for seniors, and individuals who rely on mental health and opioid addiction programs. Medicaid is the largest source of funding in the United States for substance abuse treatment. I’m sure everyone in this room knows somebody facing an addiction crisis.

The New York Times recently reported that based on preliminary data they compiled, drug overdose deaths in the United States will likely exceed 59,000 in 2016—the largest annual jump in our nation’s history.  It’s an estimated 19% rise since 2015 and likely to get worse in 2017.

In addition to hardworking families, the cuts would harm hospitals because they would take on significant uncompensated care but with lower reimbursement rates.   This is a recipe for a health and economic disaster for not just Medicaid, but for all Americans. Not only would patients receive lower quality care, the cuts would create a devastating economic ripple effect in communities and likely lead to significant job loss. For many communities, including mine, the hospital is one of the largest employers.

The reality is that Medicaid is now a middle-class benefit. As more and more Americans celebrate living longer, new challenges have appeared—dementia and general need for long-term care. We need to ensure these programs are secure in the future to keep up with the strides we are making to extend life expectancy.

Thanks to Medicaid, in Massachusetts, almost 100% of children and 97% of adults have health insurance. It is a wildly popular program. I remind my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, Americans may not remember who brought them higher quality, lower-cost health care, but they would certainly remember who takes it away.

Proposals to convert Medicaid to a block grant or per-capita cap would shift costs to states. Look—I have been in local government—you know exactly where those funds would end up—to balance the budget of something not remotely related to health care.

Proposed Medicare cuts are a staggering $33.5 billion—and at a time when millions of Baby Boomers are beginning to rely on this critical program. We have a bipartisan responsibility to govern on behalf of the middle class and grow our economy, and especially to avoid any self-inflicted damage. America’s seniors earned their Medicare benefits, and I hope the Secretary will commit to working with Congress to make sure that Medicare, and all of our obligations, are paid on time and in full.

Because you are a trustee of both Medicare and Social Security, I want to make sure you are aware this budget would cut Social Security benefits by up to the $64 billion over 10 years. And what’s worse, these cuts are targeted to people with severe disabilities.

Look—Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are all linked. Because of these programs, your parents aren’t living in your attic.

Other critical programs in our jurisdiction that face cuts include the Social Services Block Grant and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The programs provide services that directly benefit vulnerable children, seniors, and disabled Americans.

I want to conclude by addressing a recent decision by health insurance companies to leave the market. As HHS Secretary, the health care world looks to you for leadership. Unfortunately to date, the new Administration has not provided that unwavering leadership for the health system, which has led to a destabilized health insurance market. I’m referring to Cost Sharing Reduction Subsidies. The President has toyed with whether he intends to keep them or not; and you and I both know that is one reason for the premium increases and market instability recently reported in the press. Table 25-1 of the Analytical Perspectives has a clear line indicating the budget assumes payments go forward under current law. Why the President continues to sow confusion is unclear. We will surely disagree if, in spite of your budget, you come out on the other side of the issue. For leadership purposes, I urge you and the President to make a decision one way or another and stick to it.

This budget would force middle-class Americans to pay more for less health care, strip down critical addiction rehabilitation services, create further chaos in the health insurance market, and devastate programs for families that need help to make ends meet.

(Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niNglj-qpIQ)

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