WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ranking Member of the Joint Economic Committee, joined U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and other Senate Democrats to hold a forum entitled, “America Speaks Out: How the Republican Health Care Bill Would Devastate Rural America.” At the event, rural health care providers and other experts outlined how the Republicans’ health care bill moving through Congress leaves the 46 million Americans living in rural America behind and has a disproportionate impact on their ability to access quality, affordable health care.
During his opening statement, Senator Heinrich emphasized the impact the Republican health care bill will have on rural hospitals. Earlier today, the Joint Economic Committee Democrats released a report, “TrumpCare Threatens Rural Hospitals.” The report describes how the health care sector employs 17 percent of all workers in rural counties. In more than 40 percent of rural counties in the U.S., hospitals account for more than 10 percent of the county’s total employment. In addition, the Joint Economic Committee Democrats released “Ten Ways Congress Could Support Rural Americans” offering solutions on how Congress can actually help support rural America.
Senator Heinrich’s opening remarks from the forum as prepared for delivery are below.
Thank you, Senator Stabenow, for calling us together today to discuss the important issue of how the Republican health care bill will impact rural communities.
This meeting is critically important:
Number One: Because far too often the needs of rural communities are overlooked.
And Number Two: Because our Republican colleagues have failed to hold even one hearing or one mark-up on their bill.
In fact, beyond a small, secret group of Republicans, no other senators have been allowed to see the bill.
So this gathering is one of the few times we’ve had to focus on how the Republican bill will impact hardworking Americans.
And it’s essential that we understand how the Republican bill could impact rural communities like the ones in my home state of New Mexico and around the nation.
While I have many concerns about TrumpCare, I’d like to focus my remarks on three that are among the most devastating for rural communities.
First, as rural America continues its battle against the opioid epidemic, we know that Medicaid is the most important and most impactful tool in a state’s toolkit.
This isn’t my opinion.
This is a position shared by health care experts such as Dr. Joe Parks of the National Council for Behavioral Health, who last Friday testified before President Trump’s White House Opioid Commission.
Dr. Parks said that: “Medicaid is the largest national payer for addiction and mental health treatment.”
And he detailed why we must maintain the Medicaid expansion if we are going to make any progress on combatting the devastating opioid crisis.
Grants are important in this effort, which is why I voted to support the CARA and 21st Century Cures bills.
But without the dedicated funding that Medicaid brings, without the guaranteed coverage for mental health and substance use disorder treatment, the federal government will be shifting the financial burden of fighting this epidemic onto the states.
The second way this bill hurts New Mexico is this: More than 900,000 New Mexicans rely on the Medicaid program.
More than 70 percent – almost 3 out of 4 babies born in New Mexico are born with coverage in the Medicaid program.
For so many of our seniors, Medicaid is the only program that will help them and their families afford long-term care so they have the services and the dignity they deserve in their later years.
For disabled New Mexicans, including children, Medicaid helps them live their life to their greatest potential.
I hear from New Mexicans every day – like Brittany from Aztec, who I spoke about yesterday on the Floor – who called Medicaid a lifeline for her family, especially her two kids who have life-threatening allergies and need constant medical attention.
Yet, Republicans want to slash hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid and destroy the program as it currently exists, which will have consequences we still don’t fully grasp.
Finally, I want to emphasize the major economic hit this bill will represent in our rural communities.
Our health care system represents about one-sixth of the nation’s economy and supports millions of jobs.
The Republicans have undertaken a go-it-alone approach that will significantly impact the nation’s economy without holding one hearing.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, implementing TrumpCare could cost New Mexico alone nearly 50,000 jobs by 2022.
I am the lead Democrat on the Joint Economic Committee.
Today, along with the Senate Aging Committee, we released a report showing that rural counties are more than twice as likely as urban counties to be reliant on health care jobs.
The report shows that the average pay of hospital employees in rural counties is 43 percent higher than the average pay of other workers in the same counties. Losing those jobs would be catastrophic in these communities.
Today, the Joint Economic Committee also highlighted 10 different way Republicans and Democrats could come together to improve rural health care.
There is a lot at stake in this debate.
I don’t say this often, but I agree with President Trump, who called the House-passed bill “mean.”
I also agree with the President that any health proposal that comes out of the Senate should have “heart.”
Right now, that seems to be far from the case.
I and my Democratic colleagues remain ready to get to work on behalf of all Americans – including rural Americans – to improve our health system.
We can do this, together, if our Republican colleagues come out from the shadows and join us in this fight.