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Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference Today on Health Care Reform and Medical Costs

WASHINGTON, July 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Xavier Becerra, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, and Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy held a press conference this afternoon in the Capitol on America's Affordable Health Choices Act and the reduction of crushing health care costs -- and mounting debt of Americans who already have health insurance.

They were joined by four Americans -- Molly Secours of Nashville, Vernon Le Count of Freedom, Maine, Catherine Howard of San Francisco and Jaclyn Michalos of Norwood, Mass. -- who shared their experiences with our current health care system and medical debt. Attached please find a fact sheet on all four of the participants.

Below are the Speaker's opening remarks and closing statement, statements of the four press conference participants, and the question and answer session.

Speaker Pelosi Opening Remarks.

Here we are today, one day closer than we have ever been in history -- to enacting real health care reform. We've made great progress -- two of our three Committees in the House, one of the two Committees in the Senate, as you know, have reported out legislation and the other two committees are hard at work in doing their jobs.

Today, we're going to hear real stories from real people about the impact that health care reform will have on their lives. For the American people, America's Affordable Health Choices Act will mean a cap on your costs, but no cap on your benefits. A cap on your cost, no cap on your benefit. That represents real change.

Today, we are joined by four Americans who have tried to work hard and play by the rules and have ended up with crushing health care costs and debt. Vernon Le Count from Freedom, Maine, with tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt because of his health insurance had a waiting period and a high deductible. Molly Secours of Nashville, Tennessee, whose medical debt from uterine cancer could result in foreclosure on her home. Catherine Howard of San Francisco, California, and Jaclyn Michalos of Norwood, Massachusetts, who both beat cancer but had radically different experiences with their health insurance.

America's Affordable Health Choices Act takes a number of steps to ensure that when Americans face a health crisis, they also don't face a financial crisis. Consumers will have more choices, so they can find plans without waiting periods and high deductibles. There will be an annual limit on out-of-pocket expenses and no lifetime limits on care. There will be no more co-pays or deductibles for preventive care that can catch devastating illnesses in time. And if you change your job or lose your job, or have pre-existing medical condition, you cannot be denied coverage.

I'm now pleased to introduce our Caucus Vice-Chair Xavier Becerra. Xavier serves on the sub-committee of the Ways and Means Committee that is helping leading the health insurance reform package. He's been a very valued member of our Caucus and in leadership on the issue.

Congressman Xavier Becerra. Thank you, Madam Speaker. For those who think that this has been an artful game of political or policy chess, hear the stories of the people that are with us today. This is the real deal. This is about finally giving people a real sense that health care will be there for them and their families.

And if anyone thinks that the stories that are being written today about where we are in this health care discussion are simply stories about Washington, D.C., then you're sorely mistaken, because the real stories that this is all about are here today. In some places in America, people think they have good health insurance. In some places of America, too many Americans have found out that they don't. We intend to change that. America's Affordable Health Choices Act means to make it possible for no one to have to worry that the health insurance they have will not be enough.

Molly Secours has a story to tell you. She's a small businesswoman. She was doing very well, and then she found out she had uterine cancer. She has and had health insurance. And so, like all Americans who have health insurance, she thought she'd be OK, until her insurance company told her, you're a little too sick to be helped.

And so, her catastrophic coverage didn't take care of what she needed. And, today, like many Americans throughout this country who are on the verge of losing their home, Ms. Secours had to take out money from her home so she could pay for some of her expenses. And today she's one of those many Americans who is not sure if she's going to get to keep something as important as the roof over her head.

Now, these stories go on all the time, but Molly Secours' story is no different from the story of many Americans throughout this country. And so, while we write about and read about these tales of political and policy discussion and debate, the real stories are here, and I'd like to introduce to you Molly Secours.

Molly Secours. Thank you. Good morning. Again, my name is Molly Secours.

Until about two years ago, I was a fairly healthy free-lance filmmaker. I prided myself on being responsible, a responsible single, self-employed person. And I did the smart thing. I went out, I got a low-end health care policy with a large deductible -- it was a catastrophe insurance policy. I told my friends that it was my bus insurance, in case I got hit by a bus. And that's pretty much how I felt. And I was pretty healthy, so that was safe.

I know that might sound dramatic, you know, the "in-case I get hit by a bus insurance policy," but I'm a filmmaker and what happened to me sometimes feels more like a movie than actually my life.

Two years ago last month, I got hit by the "bus." I heard those words, the three most terrifying words that you can hear in America: "You have cancer." When you hear those words, it's like stepping out of the shower into outer space. You're disoriented -- none of the normal rules apply of life, of the universe, everything becomes surreal -- "This can't be happening. Not to me. How?"

And when I finally found my tongue and the first things out of my mouth were: "I know I can't afford this." Never mind that it was stage four uterine cancer and it had spread to the lymph nodes already, it was requiring an immediate, radical hysterectomy, and that I was facing that I was no longer going to have the possibility of having children. The first words were: "But I can't afford this." Never mind that there was a harrowing chemo cocktail and radiation cocktail that I was about to endure for the next six to eight months of my life that meant that I would never be the same, I was consumed with the fear that I'll have to declare bankruptcy. Never mind that I was being told that the key to my recovery was to remain stress-free, just stay stress-free and all I could hear was: "I'll probably lose my house. And so my health care nightmare began."

The legal cocktail of chemo required these mega anti-nausea drugs and they were $500 a shot -- $500 a round for each chemo. I had six rounds of chemo. I had to call cousins in Canada to see if I could get it cheaper because I couldn't afford it because my insurance company wouldn't pay for the chemo drugs -- the anti-nausea drugs. After the first five rounds of chemo, I got the first bill in the mail. It was a four-page itemized bill and one item on the bill for the first round of chemo, the first of six, was for a shot of Neulasta, which was almost $6,000. That was one item on a four-page bill. And I about passed out knowing that just $36,000 I was going to have to look forward to receiving in the mail of bills just for that one shot. So some days when I got the bills in the mail, that was almost as excruciating as the harrowing chemo treatments that I went through. And there were days when I prayed that I wouldn't make it, because I didn't want to face what was waiting for me on the other side, should I make it.

But I survived cancer and last fall, less than a year in remission, I had to battle with my mortgage company who had put me into foreclosure. Even though I'd never been late, I'd never missed a payment during the entire time of chemo and radiation. There was no leniency because I had cancer. I had a subprime mortgage because I am self-employed. And if it weren't for the fact that I knew Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper, I wouldn't have a home right now. They rallied for me, the press rallied for me, and I ended up getting to keep my house. So I didn't lose my house, but it shouldn't take an act of Congress for someone who has cancer to keep their house.

So I tell you this today, being 15 months in remission knowing that my continued recovery depends on keeping my stress low as I chip away at tens of thousands of dollars that my health insurance company didn't cover. And it wasn't that I wasn't responsible. I did the right thing. I bought the insurance. I bought the insurance with a major carrier and still it wasn't enough to prevent me from nearly losing my home. And now that very same policy has doubled and I'm terrified to get another one because I know that now that I have cancer I am a marked woman.

There are 47 million people without insurance in this country and they're not looking for a handout. There are thousands of people like me who have insurance and they're not looking for a handout -- we're not looking for a handout. What we're looking for, what we're asking for, what we're begging for, what I'm begging for -- is a current health reform package that becomes law so that people like me can receive adequate health care and aren't fiscally and physically ruined by getting a diagnosis of cancer. Thank you very much.

[Congresswoman Donna Edwards.]

Vernon Le Count. This is pretty intimidating. My name is Vernon Le Count. I am here today from the small town of Freedom, Maine.

Unlike many stories you hear, my medical bills aren't from a single illness or an action, but accumulated over the past decade. In 1999, while completing a waiting period for benefits to kick in on a new job, I was admitted to a hospital for kidney stones. If you've ever had kidney stones, you know that you don't want to wait for your insurance to kick in. [Laughter.] But the operation was done twice -- incorrectly the first time and correctly the second time. I ended up with a total of $12,000 in debt to the hospital plus another $6,000 to the doctor -- way beyond my budget.

Since then, I've been fortunate, and I have health insurance for most of the last 10 years. But as is common in Maine, I've mostly worked for small businesses or been self-employed. The health insurance premiums I and my employer were able to afford came with high deductibles that I could not meet. It's usually about $3,000-$5,000 a year. Even though I'm healthy, I find there's always something that causes me to max out my deductible. This year I had a colonoscopy, which is standard for a person my age, added onto my deductible. Between the initial bill for the kidney stones and years of high deductibles, I know owe the hospital $28,000 and over $8,000 to doctors. I pay toward this debt each month, but I can't make a dent in it, obviously. And this is on top of the thousands I pay currently for my health care premiums and co-pays, which is about a third of my income goes to health premiums and co-pays.

I'm trying to do the right thing, so I pay my bills down every month, but they accumulate faster than I can pay. But this story is not unusual. Typical Maine workers, like farmers, fisherman, loggers, carpenters, and seasonal workers, are usually self-employed and need to follow the work when it is available. They need portability between employment chances and affordable options, like the public plan. We need protection from this kind of crushing debt, the kind of protection that the House health care reform bill offers. We need to get rid of things like waiting periods so that no one is left in a lurch like I was. We need portability to health care between jobs and more affordable options. Portability and affordability. We need to do this as soon as possible. Please. Thank you.

[Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.]

Catherine Howard. Hi. My name is Catherine Howard and I'm from San Francisco. Five years ago, I was working as a documentary film producer. I wasn't making a lot of money, but I knew that maintaining my health insurance was really important. I was afraid I'd get hurt snowboarding, not dealing with a life-threatening illness. I found a private insurance plan, that seemed affordable -- only $140 a month -- but I had no idea what it would really cost me. After my breast cancer diagnosis I thought I was covered. I had done the right thing; I had insurance.

But I discovered that the health plan that I was paying for didn't cover a large part of the cancer care that I required. I had chosen one of those low premium, but high deductible plans. And I had to pay for 30 percent of all the services that the policy covered. And it didn't even cover all the services I needed. I remember staring at the needle of one shot. It cost $2,100, and thinking, "I have to pay 600 dollars for this today."

Ultimately I wound up $100,000 in debt, between the medical expenses and the living expenses for while I was sick. I've been paying it off slowly, using payment plans and my credit cards. But I still owe $40,000 just for medical costs. Rather than saving money for a down payment on a house, buying a car, or even having a savings account, I spent $1,800 a month, basically every penny I have after the basics to pay off what I owe. I lived like a pauper to pay this and I don't know where the end of this is.

The kind of health reforms in the House proposal would have kept me out of this devastating debt and the financial circumstances that I'm now in. Despite my own best efforts, I'm fortunate that my employer now covers comprehensive health insurance because as a cancer survivor, otherwise I'm completely uninsurable. People like me, working to build our careers, we need a real choice for affordable, reliable coverage. Thank you.

Jaclyn Michalos. Good morning, my name is Jaclyn Michalos. I'm from Massachusetts. Thank you for having me here today, and my story is a little different from Catherine's.

I never imagined that I could get breast cancer at the age of 27. After graduating college, I taught pre-school for three years and had health insurance, but in 2005, I left my job to work for my father at his restaurant in Randolph, Mass. As a small, family-owned business, he couldn't afford to provide insurance, so I became uninsured. In 2006, I discovered a lump in my breast. I called my doctor to see what it would cost me to see her and she told me it would be $130 out of pocket. She checked me out and told me it was nothing to worry about, I didn't get a mammogram or any other test. I can't help but believe that me not having health insurance affected that decision.

Then Massachusetts started its new health insurance program that requires everyone to get health insurance. I was happy to, but on my waitress wages, I couldn't afford it, so I was able to get CommonHealth care. I was still worrying about the lump that hadn't gone away, so I went to see another doctor who had ordered an ultra-sound, a mammogram, a biopsy and I ultimately ended up being diagnosed with breast cancer.

On July 24(,) 2007, I got a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. The bills totaled about $125,000, a cost we would not have been paid without my parents taking out a second mortgage on their home which would have threatened their financial security as well. But I was able to focus on getting through the treatment and getting well -- not on how we would possibly pay the larger bill. If it hadn't been, if I hadn't had insurance, I probably would not have made the doctor's appointment and gotten the test that turned out to be cancer and I might not be alive today to tell my story. Instead, tomorrow will be my two-year anniversary of being cancer free.

I want every woman like Catherine and Molly, and every American like Vernon to know that if you get sick, you will be able to get the care you need without having to waste precious energy on worrying about losing your home, or becoming in debt for the rest of your life. I am not a member of any activist group. I don't pay a whole lot of attention to politics. I just try to work hard and make a good life. It makes me sad and angry to hear people try to politicize this and it is about our health and our well being. Please keep focused on something getting done sooner rather than later. Unlike Catherine, I am a relatively lucky person because my state did this. It is an American problem and it needs to be an American solution. Thank you.

[Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy.]

Speaker Pelosi Closing Statement.

As you have heard, our Members of Congress have had experience in their lives and in their families and they have acted upon them in a public policy way. Our guests here today have been very generous; the generosity of their sprit, the eloquence of their words, sharing their stories with us speaks more eloquently to the need for this health care reform than anything that we can say as policymakers.

I speak on behalf of all of our colleagues in the Congress and I thank you for your courage in coming forward and sharing your stories. That takes us to where we go next, which is to respond to your challenge for us to pass this sooner rather than later. That is our intention.

I want to thank Congressman Becerra, Congresswoman DeLauro, Congresswoman Edwards and Congresswoman Kilroy for being with us. I know that they all want me to again, acknowledge the eloquence, the generosity and the presence of our special guests here today. Thank you so much.

We'd be pleased to take any questions.

Question: [Inaudible.]

Speaker Pelosi. Some of the issues that the Blue Dogs have put forth are issues that we are all concerned about: reducing cost, reducing cost, reducing cost. That's what the President said from the start. What is happening requires us to reduce cost, and so I support what their requests are. I think that we are moving closer. We are making progress and I have no question that we have the votes on the floor of the House to pass this legislation.

It is the legislative process, I keep saying that over and over again. People say, "Well other people do all of their debating behind closed doors." That's not who we are as a party. We have the reinvigoration of the freshness of ideas that go across our Caucus and some of the concerns raised by the Blue Dogs are issues, concerns, that are shared by other Members. I'm feeling pretty positive about it.

Question: [Inaudible.]

Speaker Pelosi. Well, when we see what the Senate is considering and that is what we are all eagerly awaiting, and I'm sure the Blue Dogs, as well as the Members of our Caucus as well, we want to squeeze as much savings out of the system as we can before we seek any revenue, we can only go so far. Mr. Becerra, would you like to speak to that point? Because he is on the Ways and Means Committee, he has taken the lead on this subject.

Congressman Becerra. Madam Speaker, I think all of us agree that in a two-and-a-half trillion dollar system, you should be able to find the savings you need to pay for any reform, and so that is what we are looking for. Our difficulty because of the Congressional Budget Office scoring is that we can only get credit for savings that we extract from government directed or government related programs so Medicare or Medicaid, veterans programs. So we have done a tremendous job of actually finding the savings and implementing the reforms that will cut costs within those programs which are in our reach for CBO scoring purposes.

But we can't reach out into the private health insurance market and require them to undertake the same reforms. Some of them have come to the table and said they are going to do some of these reforms, and that $1.5 trillion savings that they come to the table with over the next 10 years is something we think will be real. And so we think we can incorporate those private health insurance saving with public health savings which we have put forward to cover this.

Now, CBO may not give us full credit for that, so we have decided that we will not put something forward that is not fiscally responsible. We will be fiscally responsible as we make health care affordable and reachable for all Americans and that's why you see we are going to do the right thing in making sure this bill is paid for. One way or the other it will be paid for. We are first searching for the reforms that give us the savings, as the Speaker has said, we will do whatever is necessary to be fiscally responsible.

Speaker Pelosi. And may I say on that score that the CBO does not score prevention wellness initiatives, initiatives that throughout the world have contributed to reducing the cost, improving the quality of care, and making nations healthier.

So we are very confident about how we go forward and then we will be talking about a MedPAC, IPac-like initiative that is appealing to a broad section of our Caucus about how we bend the cost curve, that we insist on bending the curve, but we want to do it in a way that respects the prerogatives of the Congress of the United States as well as the President of the United States.

Question: [Inaudible.]

Speaker Pelosi. That is not the thought now. That was your question, is that the thought now? Well we are waiting to see what the President says -- and what the Senate will do. We are hoping that in the next day or so that we will see. But we are going in a forward direction, we are on course, we are pleased with the progress that is being made. We believe that the American people have waited long enough, the stories that you have heard here are the stories across kitchen tables across America. Sooner, rather than later. You heard that appeal.

Question: [Inaudible.]

Speaker Pelosi. The change, what did I say last week?

Question: [Inaudible.]

Speaker Pelosi. That is what our intention is. I don't know what, how you were characterizing what I said last week. That is our intention.

Question: [Inaudible.]

Speaker Pelosi. Well from January 2010, you begin to see the change immediately. In fact, one of the first provisions is that an insurance, is that it takes effect January 2010, would be that your insurance company cannot have a rescission on your policy because they don't feel like paying for your illness, this is drastic, so many things go into effect, but as you say this is a sort of time-release capsule and some of it comes out over a period of time, but the fact is, the sooner we begin, the sooner these issues will be addressed.

Congressman Becerra. I could be wrong, but I almost recall, and we were having conversations in Ways and Means that the prohibition on discrimination based on pre-existing condition, which would affect Molly and others, would take affect immediately, or much sooner than 2013, so there are things that kick in far before 2013.

Question: [Inaudible.]

Speaker Pelosi. But remember one thing, these bills are not finished yet, and when Energy and Commerce finishes their bill, we'll blend our three bills to take to the floor, and then of course we have to reconcile with the Senate. So again, this is all coming in stages, and it is becoming absolutely great and sooner rather than later, hopefully in the next few days.

Question: [Inaudible.]

Speaker Pelosi. I believe that 70 percent of the American people think that that would be a good idea. I want to see a bill. I think again the American people have waited a very long time, since the '30s, just to go back into the lifetime of some people who are still alive, in the '30s, this all started and we never had the American Medical Association ever endorse a health reform bill and they have endorsed the legislation that the House put out and our original mark that we put there. So again, we think it's been a long time. It's about time, it's about the time that people have to wait if they don't have health insurance or if they get a job and there's a waiting period, its about time for this to happen and we fully intend to do so.

It's pretty exciting, it's pretty exciting. You are a part of history and you are watching the legislative process at work, and it will take some time, but we are going to do it right and it will lower cost, improve quality, expand choices, be fully paid for and make America healthier and we're very excited about all of that.

Once again I want to thank our guests for their, for being here, Molly Secours, Vernon Le Count, Catherine Howard, and Jaclyn Michalos. Thank you all very much for being with us today. Thank you.

Crushing Health Care Costs

Press Event Participants

Without reform, the cost of health care for the average family of four is projected to rise $1,800 every year for years to come - and insurance companies will make health care decisions. American's middle class deserves better.

Today's event on the crushing costs of health care, and mounting medical debt, is one in a series of events to highlight the critical reforms in America's Affordable Health Choices Act that will help the millions of Americans who already have insurance.

The following participants share their experience with medical costs:

Molly Secours - Molly is from Nashville, Tennessee. A self-employed filmmaker, Molly was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2007. While she had insurance at the time, it was just 'catastrophic coverage' and had a very high deductible. After the deductible was met, she had to cover 20% of the remaining costs, without any upper limits. Eventually, Molly ended up with $25,000 in medical debt and she had to refinance her home to pay for her bills. She is now close to facing foreclosure on her house.

Molly now faces dire financial problems, just because she got sick. As a self-employed businesswoman, under this health reform package she will be able to get coverage similar to those generally available to large employers through the Health Insurance Exchange. Depending on her income, she might get a subsidy to help her buy coverage, which will be less expensive and have more manageable cost sharing than high deductible or catastrophic plans do today. She will have a limit on their total out of pocket costs of about $5,000 per year.

Vernon Le Count - Vernon is from Freedom, Maine. Like most places in America, small businesses in Maine - the kind Vernon has always worked for - struggle to provide affordable health insurance to their employees, often ending up with limitations, like waiting periods when people start their jobs and high deductibles, just to keep the premiums low.

Vernon ran into both of these barriers. While completing a waiting period for benefits to start at a new job, Vernon was admitted to the hospital for kidney stones - an operation that couldn't wait for the health insurance to kick in. The $6,000 bill he was left with was only the beginning of his medical debt. Vernon's current tab at his local hospital now tops $28,000, a testament to year after year of $3,000 to $5,000 deductibles that simply can't be met. Vernon pays towards his debt each month but, he says, "I can't even make a dent."

Under health insurance reform, small businesses will have better options for covering their employees like Vernon through the Health Insurance Exchange. There won't be a need to use waiting periods or high deductibles to make the health plan "affordable" for the business to offer -- but at the expense of the employees. Vernon would still have to contribute to the cost of his health care, but he would not face the high deductibles that have resulted in a debt he can not pay off without winning the lottery.

Catherine Howard - Catherine is from San Francisco, California. Catherine was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31. At the time, she was a freelance documentary producer who couldn't afford the high price of private insurance. Instead, she opted for a very basic plan, with extremely high deductibles. After the diagnosis, she discovered the health coverage she was paying for out of pocket, did not cover her treatment. Ultimately, she wound up with $100,000 in debt to cover medical expenses and living expenses while she was sick.

Catherine now faces dire financial problems, just because she got sick. As a self-employed businesswoman, under this health insurance reform she will be able to get coverage similar to those generally available to large employers through the Health Insurance Exchange. Depending on her income, she might get a subsidy to help her buy coverage, which will be less expensive and have more manageable cost sharing than high deductible or catastrophic plans do today. She will have a limit on total out of pocket costs of about $5,000 per year.

Jaclyn Michalos - Jaclyn is from Norwood, Massachusetts. Jaclyn graduated college and started teaching preschool after graduation, where she got health insurance through her work. She eventually left her job as a preschool teacher and went to work for her father, who owns a small restaurant. A small family business, her father couldn't offer health insurance, so Jaclyn went uninsured for a year. At the age of 27, she felt a lump in her left breast, and called her former doctor to ask how much it would cost get checked out. The doctor said it would cost $130, so Jaclyn paid the doctor and to assess her problem. The doctor assured her there was nothing to worry about.

After a year of being uninsured, the Massachusetts reform went into effect and Jaclyn qualified for Commonwealth Care, subsidized insurance for lower-income people. Eventually, Jaclyn saw another doctor, who ordered an ultrasound and mammogram and confirmed she did have breast cancer. Jaclyn had a double mastectomy in 2007. She was the first person in her family to have breast cancer. Ultimately, her insurance through the state covered the over $125,000 in expenses. She now has zero medical debt.

SOURCE Office of the Speaker of the House
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