Recent Speeches

Statement of Senator Dianne Feinstein in Support of the Mikulski Amendment #2791

H.R. 3590, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I admire the Senator's gentility. I thank him very much.

I rise to say a few words on behalf of the Mikulski amendment, but before I do, I wish to make a generic statement.

Those of us who are women have essentially had to fight for virtually everything we have received. When this Nation was founded, women could not inherit property and women could not receive a higher education. In fact, for over half this Nation's life, women could not vote. It was not until 1920, after perseverance and demonstrating, that women achieved the right to vote. Women could not serve in battle in the military, and today we now have the first female general. So it has all been a fight.

Senator Mikulski and Senator Boxer in the House in the 1980s carried this fight. Those of us in the 1990s who came here added to it. You, Madam President, have added to it in your remarks earlier. The battle is over whether women have adequate prevention services provided by this bill. I thank Senator Mikulski and Senator Boxer for their leadership and for their perseverance and their willingness to discuss the importance of preventive health care for women. Also, I thank Senator Shaheen, Senator Murray, and Senator Gillibrand, joined by Senators Harkin, Cardin, Dodd, and others, for coming to the floor and helping women with this battle.

The fact is, women have different health needs than men, and these needs often generate additional costs. Women of childbearing age spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men. Most people don't know that, but it is actually true. So we believe all women -- all women -- should have access to the same affordable preventive health care services as women who serve in Congress, no question. The amendment offered by Senator Mikulski -- and she is a champion for us -- will ensure that is, in fact, the case. It will require insurance plans to cover at no cost basic preventive services and screenings for women. This may include mammograms, Pap smears, family planning, screenings to detect postpartum depression, and other annual women's health screenings. In other words, the amendment increases access to the basic services that are a part of every woman's health care needs at some point in her life.

Let me address one point because there is a side-by-side amendment submitted by the Senator from Alaska.

Nothing in our bill would address abortion coverage. Abortion has never been defined as a preventive service. The amendment could expand access to family planning services -- the type of care women need to avoid abortions in the first place.

As I mentioned, the Senator from Alaska has offered an alternative version of this proposal. But regardless of the merits or problems with her proposal, it remains a kind of budget buster. According to the CBO, the amendment would cost $30.6 billion over 10 years. Adopting this amendment would require us to spend some of the surplus raised by the CLASS Act, or some of the budget surpluses in the bill. The underlying bill, as written, reduces the budget deficit by $130 billion in the first 10 years and as much as $650 billion in the second 10 years. This is a very important thing, in my view, and we need to maintain these savings. The Mikulski amendment would do that. It costs $940 million over 10 years as opposed to the $24 billion to $30 billion in the Murkowski amendment.

The Mikulski amendment is, I believe, the best way to expand access to preventive care for women, while keeping this bill fiscally responsible.

We often like to think of the United States as a world leader in health care, with the best and the most efficient system. But the facts actually do not bear this out. The United States spends more per capita on health care than other industrialized nations but in fact has worse results. According to the Commonwealth Fund, the United States ranks No. 15 in avoidable mortality. That means avoidable death. This analysis measures how many people in each country survive a potentially fatal yet treatable medical condition. The United States lags behind France, Japan, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Australia, Canada, and several other nations.

According to the World Health Organization, the United States ranks No. 24 in the world in healthy life expectancy. This term measures how many years a person can expect to live at full health -- robust health. The United States again trails Japan, Australia, France, Sweden, and many other countries.

These statistics show we are not spending our health care resources wisely. The system is failing to identify and treat people with conditions early on that can be controlled. Part of the answer, without question, is expanding coverage. Too many Americans cannot afford basic health care because they lack basic health insurance. But another piece of the puzzle is ensuring this coverage provides affordable access to preventive care -- the ability to be screened early -- and that is what the Mikulski amendment will accomplish.

Women need preventive care -- screenings and tests -- so that potentially serious or fatal illnesses can be found early and treated effectively. We all know individuals who have benefitted from this type of care -- a mammogram that suddenly identifies an early cancer before it has spread or before it has metastasized; a Pap smear that finds precancerous cells that can be removed before they progress to cancer and cause serious health problems; cholesterol testing or a blood pressure reading that suggests a person might have cardiovascular disease which can be controlled with medication or lifestyle changes. This is how health care should work -- a problem found early and addressed early. The Mikulski amendment will give women more access to this type of preventive care.

Statistics about life expectancy and avoidable mortality can make it easy to forget that we are talking about real patients and real people who die too young because they lack access to health care. Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health shared the following story, which comes from Dr. William Leininger in California, and here is what he says:

In my last year of residency, I cared for a mother of two who had been treated for cervical cancer when she was 23. At that time, she was covered by her husband's insurance, but it was an abusive relationship and she lost her health insurance when they divorced. For the next 5 years, she had no health insurance and never received follow-up care, which would have revealed that her cancer had returned. She eventually remarried and regained health insurance, but by the time she came back to see me, her cancer had spread. She had two children from her previous marriage, and her driving motivation during her last rounds of palliative care was to survive long enough to ensure that her abusive ex-husband wouldn't gain custody of her children after her death. She succeeded. She was 28 years old when she died.

Cases like these explain why the United States trails behind much of the industrialized world in life expectancy. For this woman, divorce meant the loss of her health coverage, which meant she could not afford follow up care to address her cancer -- a type of cancer that is often curable if found early. And that is where prevention comes in. So this tragic story illustrates the need to improve our system so women can still afford health insurance after they divorce or lose their jobs. And it shows why health reform must adequately cover all the preventive services women need to stay healthy.

The Mikulski amendment is a fight -- I am surprised, but it is a fight -- but it will help expand access to preventive care while keeping the bill fiscally responsible. To me, it is a no-brainer. If you can prevent illness, you should. In and of itself it will end up being a cost savings. So I have a very difficult time understanding why the other side of the aisle won't accept a measure that is more fiscally responsible by far than their measure, will do the job, and will give women preventive care and begin to change that statistic which shows that, among other nations, we do so badly.

I thank the Presiding Officer for coming to the floor and speaking out on this, and I hope there are enough people in this body who recognize that virtually everything women have gotten in history has been the product of a fight, and this is one of those.

I yield the floor.