Prepared Remarks for Sanders’ Kentucky Health Care Speech

Let me thank everyone for being here today.  This is a great turnout.  Thank you all for standing up for justice and decency.  Thank you for standing up for democracy and for demanding that the government of the United States represent all of us, and not just wealthy campaign contributors and the 1 percent.

Let me give a shout out to a number of organizations who helped put this event together including: 

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.  Tonight, those who have gotten up here to speak are speaking for millions of Americans.

I am here in Covington tonight for two reasons.  First, I want to talk about the so-called Republican “health care” bill which, to my mind, is the worst and most dangerous piece of legislation ever seriously considered by the U.S. Senate in the modern history of our country.

Secondly, I want to talk about something that troubles me very much, and that is the state of our democracy and representative government, and how it could be that the leader of the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, could be working so hard to destroy the Affordable Care Act, legislation which has benefited his own state, the state of Kentucky, more than any other state in the country.  That, I do not understand.

Let me be as  clear as I can be.  The so-called “health care” bill passed in the House several months ago, strongly supported by President Trump, is the most anti-working class legislation that I have ever seen and the Senate bill, also supported by Trump, in some respects is even worse. At a time when working families in Kentucky, Ohio, Vermont and throughout this country are struggling to survive, when many people are working longer hours for lower wages, when people are forced to work two or three jobs, this legislation will cause devastating harm to millions of our families from one end of this country to the other.

We are gathered here tonight to make one simple point.  And that 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, insurance companies and other large corporations. We will not support a bill which takes from the most vulnerable people in our country – the children, the elderly, the disabled, the sick and the poor – in order to make the very rich even richer.  That is unconscionable, that is un-American and we will not accept it.

Plainly stated, this so-called “health care” bill is nothing more than an enormous transfer of wealth from the working class of this country to the very rich. While this bill contains 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 when the middle class in this country continues to shrink and when families in Kentucky, Ohio, 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. This is a deeply immoral piece of legislation. That is not what America is supposed to be about.

Not only is this bill a disaster for Kentucky, Ohio, Vermont and the entire country, but the secretive, backroom process by which it has been written is unprecedented and 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 continuing in Washington right now, have never been made public. Everything has been done behind closed doors.  

Unbelievably, with legislation that would completely revamp our health care system, 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? And, by the way, this concern has been raised by a number of Republicans as well as Democrats.

Now, I know there are some people in Kentucky who will say; “Bernie Sanders is a progressive. Of course he will disagree with Sen. McConnell on this legislation.” But what I want you to understand is that it is not just me who disagrees with Sen. McConnell. It is virtually every major healthcare organization in this country – all of which oppose this terrible bill. 

It is the AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital 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.

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, this bill will throw 23 million Americans off of the health insurance they currently have – including more than 230,000 right here in Kentucky. That would bring the number of uninsured in our country to over 50 million people.  That is beyond comprehension.  That is unconscionable. That must not be allowed to happen.

Let me also be clear in stating that no state in America has benefitted more from the Affordable Care Act than Kentucky.  Since this legislation was implemented, the uninsured rate for adults in Kentucky has gone down from 20.4 percent in 2013 to just 7.8 percent in 2016 – the largest reduction in America.  Today, only 4 percent of children in Kentucky are uninsured.  This is a significant accomplishment, something to be very proud of, and something that should not be destroyed.

Now, despite those improvements, everyone knows that the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect.  Premiums in Vermont and around the country are too high, deductibles are too high, co-payments are too high, and too many remain uninsured and under-insured. But, in each and every one of these very legitimate concerns, the Republican legislation that has brought forward would only make a bad situation much, much worse.

Our job now is to improve the Affordable Care Act, not destroy it. Our job is to lower deductibles, lower co-payments and lower the outrageously high costs of prescription drugs. 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.  And, in order to accomplish that, as soon as we defeat this terrible Republican proposal, I will be introducing a Medicare-for-all, single-payer bill which will do just that.

I want all of you to take a moment to think 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 well supported.  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 $47 billion in Kentucky.  

The Children

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 Kentucky, Medicaid and CHIP cover 40 percent of all children, including 52 percent of children with special health care needs.  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?   

The Elderly

But, it’s not just children who will suffer if this bill is passed.  It is the elderly.  What every person in Kentucky should understand is that Medicaid now pays for over two-thirds of all nursing home care.  What happens to the nearly 20,000 seniors and persons with disabilities in Kentucky 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 Kenton County, Kentucky, who is 60 years old and you make $40,000 a year, your average health insurance premiums will go up from roughly $4,000 a year now to more than $7,000 per year under Senator McConnell’s plan – more than 74 percent.

How is a 60-year old worker living in this county supposed to come up with an extra $3,000 a year for health insurance?

At a time when half of older 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 said about this horrible piece of legislation on June 22nd:

“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.”  That’s not Bernie a Sanders.  That’s an AARP statement from June 22nd.

Opioid Treatment

I want to now say a word about an issue that is incredibly painful for Vermont, for our country and especially difficult for the state of Kentucky.

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 Kentucky.

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, Kentucky’s opioid drug overdose death rate is the third highest in the nation and more than twice the national average. 

In 2015, over 1,300 people in Kentucky died from drug overdoses.  That’s about four each and every day.  That same year over 350 million opioid painkillers were distributed in this state – enough to provide every man, woman and child in Kentucky with nearly 80 pills.

In Northern Kentucky, almost five times as many lives are lost as a result of drug overdoses than car accidents.  In a 2015 poll from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, about one out of every three people in Northern Kentucky said they know someone who has a problem with heroin. 

If you cut Medicaid by over $800 billion nationally over a ten year period, it will mean that up to 15,000 people in Kentucky would not get the treatment they desperately need to treat their addiction.

Our job is to develop a comprehensive program for to expand treatment and prevention, not throw 15,000 people in the state off the treatment they need.

Our job is to develop a comprehensive national approach to improve treatment and prevention for opioid and heroin addiction.  We should be dramatically increasing funds to address this crisis, not cut over $800 billion from Medicaid.

I say to Sen. McConnell, who I have known for many years, please do not tell the people of Kentucky or America that the $45 billion for opioid addiction that you may include in this bill will compensate for the huge cuts this bill mandates for Medicaid 

Planned Parenthood 

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 centers in Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati could be forced to close leaving over 3,200 patients without the care they desperately need.  Unacceptable!

Letters

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 a 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 USA Today/Suffolk University poll, just 12 percent of the American people support the Senate Republican “health care” plan.

As a matter of fact, according to a recent report, this is the most unpopular piece of legislation in the last three decades. 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!  

All of which raises a very simple question.  Why is legislation being aggressively pushed that the American people don’t want and, at the same time, will do enormous damage to the Senate Republican leader’s very own state?  How does that happen?  

And the answer goes to something which is even deeper and more serious than this horrific legislation and the overall health care crisis we face as a nation.  

The answer as to why this legislation is being pushed is that, increasingly, government does not respond to the needs of ordinary Americans, and does not care about the needs of ordinary Americans.  Especially since the passage of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, Congress responds to wealthy campaign contributors.  It responds to the power of the billionaire class.  It responds to multi-national corporations and their lobbyists.  

Yes.  The American people, overwhelmingly, do not want this legislation.  Yes.  This legislation will be a disaster for the working families of Kentucky.  But that’s not what’s important here.  What’s important is that the wealthiest people in this country DO want this legislation, they do want the enormous tax breaks in it and, for Congress, that’s what matters the most.  

You all know what’s going on in America today. The rich are getting much richer, while almost everyone else is becoming poorer. 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.  You know that at a time when Americans are working incredibly long hours, 52 percent of all new income being generated goes to the top 1 percent.   

And here’s a very simple proposition.  When workers in Kentucky, Ohio and throughout this country 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.

Our job today is to do everything possible to defeat this terrible legislation which will harm so many people.  Our job tomorrow is to join every other major country on earth and guarantee health care for all as a right not a privilege through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program.  

And our job every day is to fight for a political revolution which demands that we create a vibrant democracy in which government represents all of us, and not just the wealthy and the powerful.

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 its commitment to justice, dignity and equality.  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.