January 4, 2017 - Issue: Vol. 163, No. 2 — Daily Edition115th Congress (2017 - 2018) - 1st Session
STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS; Congressional Record Vol. 163, No. 2
(Senate - January 04, 2017)
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[Pages S60-S62] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS By Mr. FLAKE (for himself and Mr. Johnson): S. 28. A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand the permissible use of health savings accounts to include health insurance payments and to increase the dollar limitation for contributions to health savings accounts, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance. Mr. FLAKE. Mr. President, I rise to speak today about legislation I am introducing, the Health Savings Account Expansion Act. Earlier this month, individuals across this country were once again faced with fewer choices and increased costs when purchasing health insurance coverage. Unfortunately, this has been a common occurrence since the Affordable Care Act's inception, but no State, I can tell you, is feeling the pinch more than my State of Arizona. Prior to the flawed rollout of the exchanges in 2013, Arizona had 24 health insurance companies offering plans in the individual market. Just last year, residents in Arizona's most populous county Maricopa, where I live, had only 8 private providers to choose from on the exchange--so from 24 to 8. Then, if that wasn't bad enough, a few months ago, individuals all across Arizona received notification that their insurance plans were no longer being offered, despite the current administration's hollow promise that they could keep their plans. Now nearly stripped of their preferred health insurance, residents in 14 of 15 Arizona counties--14 out of 15 counties--logged into the ObamaCare exchanges to shop for new plans only to discover that instead of the vibrant marketplace they used to have, they were left with only one insurer to choose from--so from 24 to 8, to 1 for 14 of Arizona's 15 counties. So today, when I hear my friends on the other side of the aisle talking about preserving this wonderful program, I am saying ``What State of denial do you live in?'' because it is certainly not working in Arizona. In fact, Pinal County in Arizona briefly held the unfortunate distinction as the only county in America without a single insurer willing to offer plans on its exchange, not a single one. Fortunately, a few months later, one stepped in--just one. Of the plans that were ultimately made available to Arizonans on the exchange, the average policy came with a premium hike of nearly 50 percent--an average of nearly 50 percent. With only one game in town, there was no shopping around for a better deal. To help put this in perspective, I would like to compare the average cost of health care coverage in Arizona to one of the most important purchases a family will ever make, and that is a home. Throughout most counties in Arizona, it is now cheaper to put a roof over your family's head than it is to pay your monthly health insurance premium under ObamaCare. Let me say that again. Throughout most counties in Arizona, it is now cheaper to put a roof over your family's head than it is to pay your monthly health insurance premium under ObamaCare. This is for Maricopa County. It is the county in which I live and includes Phoenix. Homeowners can expect to pay nearly $500 more per month on their health insurance than they do on their house--$500 more on their health insurance than they do on their house. This is for the ObamaCare silver plan premium. This is a family--age 40 with two children. So that's about the median, and this is the median mortgage payment with respect to Maricopa County--$500 more. Let's see the visual for Pima County. Pima County is home to Tucson. Health care premiums ran an average family $100 more per month than their mortgage. So in Pima County you are still paying more--$100 more for your health insurance premium than you are for your mortgage. Then there is Pinal County, the third largest in Arizona. According to Arizona's Department of Insurance, the average premium for a silver plan in Pinal County for the average family of four is over $1700. That is double the median monthly mortgage payment for the same county. If you live in Pinal County, AZ, you are paying twice as much for your health insurance premium. Keep in mind, we are talking about the premium, to say nothing of what happens when you go to the hospital or to your doctor and you have to pay deductibles that are through the roof or co-pays that people have never experienced before. So when they utilize that coverage they paid for with their premium, they realize they can't afford that either. The situation isn't unique to these counties, the three most populous counties in Arizona. In all 15 of Arizona's counties, premiums for a family of 4 dramatically exceed the median monthly mortgage. It is unacceptable for the Federal Government to force families to spend upwards of $1,700 per month of their hard-earned income on a substandard product without options or choices, only to then slap them with a draconian penalty that they simply can't afford to pay for an untenable law. Arizona is, without a doubt, ground zero for the structural failures that are plaguing insurance markets around the country. Insurance exchanges are on the verge of collapsing; premiums, deductibles, out- of-pocket expenses are skyrocketing; and our health care system is in desperate need of reform. That is why I stand here today to introduce the Health Savings Account Expansion Act. The Health Savings Account Expansion Act goes a long way toward reforming our health care system by putting consumers back in charge of their own health care. The bill provides individuals and families with freedom to choose the health care that best meets their needs and allows them to use their health savings accounts on medical products and services they value most. [[Page S61]] HSAs give consumers greater control over their health care dollars by providing them with a tax-advantaged savings option for their medical expenses. This means that the dollars they work so hard to save can grow over time, tax free, and can be withdrawn tax free for qualified medical expenses. The HSA Expansion Act strengthens this important tool by nearly tripling the arbitrarily low contribution limits, thus allowing for greater tax equity and more universal participation in HSAs. The bill would then allow individuals to use these expanded HSAs to help cover the costs of their monthly health insurance premiums. This is a critically important feature, particularly for middle-class families whose incomes fall slightly above the qualified threshold for subsidies but whose health insurance has become unaffordable. In Arizona, I like to go to the gym in the morning, and I like to get on an exercise bike. By that bike is kind of a hallway where people will walk by. Inevitably, in the morning, I will have a lineup of people who will stand to tell me their ObamaCare horror stories--how much their premiums have gone up or that they no longer have any options or that they have had to pay the penalty or that when they go to utilize their care, they simply can't afford the co-pays and deductibles. I can tell you, it is sobering to hear these stories again and again and again. In addition to further incentivizing prudent savings for health expenses, this legislation repeals existing restrictions put in place by ObamaCare on over-the-counter medications while also reducing the penalty for withdrawing HSA funds for nonqualified purchases. These reforms will help streamline HSAs while also making them more user- friendly for consumers. Arizonans are struggling. They are struggling under the weight of bureaucracy that is complicating their health care decisions that are some of the most personal and important decisions individuals make for themselves and their families. If we hope to lift that burden off the backs of our constituents, we have to recognize that the key to reforming our health care system is not more government intervention; rather, it is allowing individuals the freedom to take back control of their health care and incentivizing prudent decisionmaking. As the Senate looks to repeal this disastrous law and replace it with real reforms that would successfully lower health care costs and improve choice, I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that this legislation is included in those negotiations. ______ By Mr. SCHUMER (for Mrs. Feinstein (for herself, Mr. Cornyn, Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Inhofe, Mr. Franken, Mr. Tillis, Mrs. Gillibrand, Mr. Markey, and Mr. Flake)): S. 30. A bill to extend the civil statute of limitations for victims of Federal sex offenses; to the Committee on the Judiciary. Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise to introduce the Extending Justice for Sex Crime Victims Act, a bill to extend the time for minors to seek justice against their perpetrators. Sex crimes committed against children tragically remain a vile and dangerous reality in communities across this country. Just this past summer, as the world tuned into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the Indianapolis Star reported that USA Gymnastics had failed to report to law enforcement allegations of child sexual abuse committed by some of its coaches. Due to these purported failures, athletes as young as 7 years old were reported to have been abused for years, without any action taken to prevent the abuse. Since the initial Indianapolis Star report, more and more young gymnasts have come forward about their abuse. All over the world, and all over this country, sex abuse victims are bravely coming forward to tell their stories of abuse when they were children. In my home state of California, numerous victims have contacted my office. They have shared the amount of courage and strength it took to finally come forward with their experiences. These stories represent an untold amount of pain and suffering. They also represent how difficult it is to come forward until later, in adulthood. It has been estimated that 90 percent of child sex crime victims never go to the authorities concerning their abuse. To put this into context, studies indicate that at least one in four girls and about one in five boys is sexually abused. 90 percent of those victims never go to the authorities. A great number of victims don't ever disclose their abuse. If they do, they do not come forward until many years later, after reaching adulthood. This bill extends the civil statute of limitations in two ways for minor victims of Federal sex crimes to seek justice against their perpetrators. For one, the bill extends the statute of limitations for minor victims until the age of 28, from age 21, for injuries stemming from sex crimes such as sexual abuse and child pornography. Second, for the two laws that provide civil remedies for sex abuse and sex trafficking victims, the bill clarifies that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until after the victim actually discovers the injury or the violation. This is significant because victims of sex crimes are sometimes abused even before they can remember the abuse, some as young as 3 years old. Some victims are unable to connect their abuse to the injurious symptoms they exhibit throughout their lives. The bill therefore clarifies that the limitations period begins when the victim first discovers the injury or the violation. Through these provisions, the bill ensures that minor victims have an extended period to seek justice against their perpetrators after discovering their injury or violation. I want to thank Senator Cornyn again for working so closely with me on this issue. I also want to thank the cosponsors to this bill: Senators Klobuchar, Inhofe, Franken, Flake, Gillibrand, Tillis, and Markey. I also want to acknowledge the support for this bill from the National Center for Victims of Crime, Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, the National Children's Advocacy Center, SGS for Healing, National Crime Victim Law Institute, National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Stop the Silence, PROTECT, the National Association to Protect Children, Rights4Girls, End Rape on Campus, National Children's Alliance, Lauren's Kids, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. ______ By Mr. WYDEN (for Mrs. Feinstein (for herself, Mr. Wyden, Ms. Cantwell, Mr. Merkley, Mrs. Murray, and Ms. Harris)): S. 31. A bill to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently prohibit the conduct of offshore drilling on the outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise to introduce a bill, the West Coast Ocean Protection Act, which would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to prohibit the Department of the Interior from issuing a lease for offshore oil or gas in federal waters off the coast of California, Oregon, or Washington. I am pleased to be joined today by Senators Wyden, Merkley, Cantwell, Murray, and Harris in sponsoring this bill, which has been reintroduced in every Congress since 2010. The original impetus for this bill was the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2010, which demonstrated yet again the risks of offshore oil and gas extraction. When the Deepwater Horizon well blew out, 11 people died and 17 others were injured. Oil and gas rushed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. Oil slicks spread across the Gulf of Mexico, tar balls spoiled the pristine white sand beaches of Florida, wetlands were coated with toxic sludge, and more than one-third of federal waters in the Gulf were closed to fishing. While Deepwater Horizon served as an important reminder, the dangers of offshore oil and gas were already too well known to Californians. In 1969, the Santa Barbara oil spill leaked up to 100,000 barrels of oil, and remains the third largest oil spill in the country to this day. [[Page S62]] Like the Deepwater Horizon, the Santa Barbara oil spill was caused by a natural gas blowout when pressure in the drill hole fluctuated. It took 11 days to plug the hole with mud and cement, but oil and gas continued to seep for months. Using containment technologies still in place today, the cleanup effort relied on skimmers, detergent, and booms. There has been no new drilling in waters controlled by the State of California since then, and there has been no new drilling in Federal waters off the coast of California since 1981. Appropriately, the most recent plan from the Department of the Interior for Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing will not allow new leasing off the Pacific Coast of California, Oregon or Washington through 2022. The fact is that those of us on the Pacific coast do not want any further offshore oil or gas development. In 2012 California's 19 coastal counties generated $662 billion in wages and $1.7 trillion in GDP. This accounts for 80 percent of the economic activity in the State. California's Ocean economy, including tourism, recreation, and marine transportation, accounts for over 489,000 jobs. Unlike other areas of the country, any potential fossil fuel resources off the coast of California are likely to be found within only 50 miles of the coast, because of the narrow shelf off the California coast. This means that any potential drilling, and any potential spills, would be in direct conflict with the ocean environment and economy that my state enjoys. Enacting a permanent ban on offshore drilling would protect our coast for generations to come. ____________________