Remarks Speaking Out About Partisan Health Care Bill’s Damaging Impact on New Jersey’s Fiscal Health and Opioid Epidemic

Jul 06, 2017

I’m glad to have this opportunity to speak out against the so-called health care bill that is snakebiting its way through Congress.

You know, as you just heard from Senators Booker and Menendez, there’s a reason why they, along with many Senate Republicans, including Susan Collins and Dean Heller, won’t vote for this bill.

There’s a reason why doctors and nurses, insurance companies, hospitals and patients and advocates have all come out against it.

There’s a reason Democrats and Republicans in the New Jersey delegation overwhelmingly voted against this bill in the House. No matter how you look at it, line by line, this legislation is simply a disaster for New Jersey families.

AHCA will raise our taxes in New Jersey — $4,000 a family. And raise premiums on anyone over 50. It will throw seniors out of nursing homes. It will put those fighting heroin addiction back on the streets.

Let’s be clear, I’m all for fixing the ACA. It needs it. I think we need to get rid of the Medical Device and Cadillac Taxes and improve the exchanges. And I’m ready to work with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to fix the bill in a true bipartisan fashion.

But this bill isn’t a fix, it’s a gut job.

So, we all need to stand together in sounding the alarm against this reckless, partisan bill. Here’s why.

First, as has been said, I’m deeply concerned about the impact this legislation would have on our ability to confront the opioid epidemic.

While I’ve been in office for only six months now, I’ve already seen the enormous toll that this crisis has taken on our communities – across the Garden State.

Tonight, along with others, I’ll be paying tribute to a young man from Allendale – a 24-year-old star athlete at Don Bosco – who recently lost his battle with addiction. He was smart, from a very good home with kind, thoughtful parents. But, as you know, heroin doesn’t care how you did on your SATs, how you threw a football, how nice of a town or house you live in, or anything else.

In too many cases, heroin keeps going until it gets you. And it’s winning the war.

New Jersey’s rate of death from heroin and fentanyl far outpaces the already sky-high national problem. Across America, we have seen the rate of people dying quadruple from 2002 to 2013. The Center for Disease Control has found that heroin use has doubled among young adults in the past decade.

Here in New Jersey, more than 128,000 people are estimated to suffer from heroin abuse, and many more from prescription opioid abuse.

This is a crisis that touches all of us. Our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and our children are dying and leaving devastated communities behind.

I saw this problem first-hand earlier this year when I went on a ride-along one night through parts of the “Heroin Highway” with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department.

Riding along the heroin highway gives you perspective. You see why we need these programs and resources, how bad this cancer is on our society.

Kids are trying pills they find at home in the medicine cabinet; moms and dads – and young athletes — are finding themselves addicted after being prescribed painkillers to recover from an injury.

As law enforcement will tell you, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.

Addiction is a disease, and we need to treat it by providing help to those who want it. But right now, we just don’t have enough beds to provide inpatient treatment. We aren’t doing enough to stop the prescriptions being written – it’s still too easy to call in or hand in a prescription for OxyContin.

Now, we got good news earlier this spring when we announced that the federal government awarded $13 million to New Jersey to improve our response to the opioid epidemic.

These resources came from the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act that was signed into law last year—proof that even in these troubled times, bipartisan progress is possible on the issues that matter to the American people.

But the partisan legislation that Congress is considering now would be a major step in the wrong direction.

Our governor says he cares, politicians of all stripes say they care about addressing the opioid crisis. If they do, then they can’t support the AHCA.

Not only would it take a hacksaw to New Jersey’s finances by attacking Medicaid —resources that allow many in our communities to access the substance abuse disorder treatment they need and provide long-term care for seniors —but it would also remove the protection that insurance providers cover mental health and substance abuse treatment.

In 2016, 14,357 Medicaid recipients in New Jersey received drug addiction treatment.

And when people without insurance dealing with substance abuse disorders turn up in emergency rooms seeking treatment, the rest of us pay those costs.

And when they end up back on the streets because they were unable to receive the treatment they need, our communities pay in increased public safety costs.

The AHCA strips out resources to help people turn around their lives. We might as well give the drug dealers free range to roam our communities.

New Jersey already pays far too much in federal taxes and sees far too little return on that investment. We can’t afford to lose the federal resources we need to confront this epidemic that is sweeping our communities.

And, as I said earlier, let’s be clear: The AHCA is a tax on our state.

New Jersey, as a state, has saved $2 billion over four years from reducing the number of uninsured by expanding Medicaid under ACA.

To keep Medicaid eligibility levels, New Jersey Policy Perspective found that our state would need to come up with $8.8 billion dollars in new revenue over the next decade. So that would amounts to a tax hike of $4,000 for an average New Jersey family. Yes, the AHCA would raise taxes on your family.

Second, this bill would make our state’s dismal return on investment for our federal tax dollars even worse. When our state accepted Medicaid expansion, we received nearly $3 billion in federal resources in 2015 alone. Those are dollars back on the already too-high taxes we pay.

By converting Medicaid to a per-capita grant program, as the AHCA requires, New Jersey would suddenly be on the hook for sending more of our tax dollars to other states.

Under the House bill, New Jersey would see federal Medicaid funds fall by more than 20 percent, significantly more than other states.

And many of those other states are already “moocher states” that take far more back in benefits from the federal government than they pay in federal taxes.

6 of the top 10 moocher states are states that would get an additional influx of New Jersey’s cash under a per capita program like the one in this bill. Really?

We already pay too much in taxes – and I think we need pay less. I’m sick and tired of propping up other states on the backs of our citizens.

And yet here we go again — the taker states cleaning out our hospitals, jacking up costs on our citizens, hurting our seniors.

This reckless bill would also risk throwing seniors out of their nursing homes and impose a new seniors tax on anyone over 50.

Killing the ACA would also jack up prescription drug costs and categorize everything from maternity care to diabetes to domestic violence as preexisting conditions, allowing insurance companies to charge you more.

So not only would this bill weaken our response to the most pressing public health and safety crisis of our time, but we just plain can’t afford it.

We can’t afford another $4,000 tax on our families and higher premiums for our seniors.

That’s why I’m proud to stand here with my colleagues and health care experts to sound the alarm.

We need to all work together – across the aisle — to stand up for the improvements we need to the ACA while rejecting politically-motivated gut jobs that would hit us squarely in the pocketbook and worsen access to care and our state’s response to the opioid crisis.

And I intend to continue doing just that.

Thank you.


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