Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on the Proposed Fiscal Year 2023 Budget with the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra
(As prepared for delivery)
Our next order of business is the hearing on the Proposed Fiscal Year 2023 Budget. Secretary Becerra, I want to extend you a warm welcome back to the Ways and Means Committee.
We meet today at an inflection point. We are shifting our focus from the urgency of the COVID public health crisis to confronting the virus as an enduring epidemic, while also tackling the other challenges that threaten the health and wellbeing of the American people.
When you last visited this Committee, Secretary Becerra, the COVID vaccine was just rolling out publicly. Now, over 219 million Americans are fully vaccinated.
2.8 million Americans signed up for health coverage under this administration’s Special Enrollment Period and over 90 percent of these new enrollees benefitted from this Committee’s premium tax credits
These impressive strides are thanks to President Biden’s visionary leadership, as well as the hard work of your team, health care workers, and public health officials. And most importantly, it’s the result of the trust Americans have placed in our institutions.
We still have far more work to do together. For example, the permanent increase in child care funding the Ways and Means Committee fought to include in the American Rescue Plan is just a first step toward the guaranteed access to child care that parents need. Our vital caregiving workforce is still paid too little and stretched too thin.
Looking ahead, this Committee is confronting the multidimensional nature of health, wellbeing, and equity. From health disparities to the longstanding problems in our delivery and access to mental health services, it’s clear that life’s circumstances have a cumulative effect on one’s health. Any successful strategies must acknowledge the stigmas and structural inequities that far too many face when it comes to their health.
Mr. Secretary, I know that something near and dear to your heart is the Affordable Care Act.
In the twelve years since President Obama signed this landmark law, 30 million more Americans have gained health coverage and the 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions have benefitted from the law’s transformational protections. Even while Republicans fought tooth and nail to strip Americans of their health coverage—which they continued to do throughout the pandemic’s public health crisis—we stayed the course and strengthened the ACA.
Without a doubt, Democrats have improved health care in this country. Despite voting dozens and dozens of times over the years to repeal the ACA, Republicans have yet to put forward their own health care proposal—perhaps that plan is hiding in the same place as their proposal to address inflation. We have chosen a path of action and results –lowering costs, expanding coverage, and saving lives.
As a result, enrollment is at an all-time high, premiums are down, and the law’s popularity is up.
Now, we must build on this progress by permanently investing in the improved Premium Tax Credit. Premiums dropped, on average, by $67 per month, and saved families over $800 annually this past year thanks to the American Rescue Plan’s expanded credit.
These are the types of investments that grow the insured population and help those covered by the ACA stay covered.
I am grateful for President Biden’s comprehensive strategy to address our nation’s mental health crisis. The budget’s historic investment in improving mental health also acknowledges the connection between mental health and substance abuse. The Committee recently held a series of hearings on these topics where we heard loud and clear that the current mental health crisis calls for expanded coverage and reduced costs for mental health services, as well as a more diverse mental health workforce.
With the rollout of the new National Suicide Hotline on the horizon, you can count on us to spread awareness and promote this more accessible resource.
Improving care for nursing home residents and our nation’s seniors is another important priority for this Committee. The last two years have unfortunately shone a bright light on where these facilities are coming up short. This Committee has led on the Elder Justice Act to protect residents and improve the quality of care, but more must be done, and we look forward to working with you on this pressing matter.
We are eager to work with you and the Biden Administration on building a healthier, more equitable America. Our Committee’s Racial Equity Initiative is examining the drivers of health disparities. We have examined the need for a more diverse physician pipeline and how clinical algorithms discriminate. We are urgently working to advance legislation that creates a more equitable society and I know the Biden Administration is the partner we need in this work.
I was also pleased to see your department begin to take on the climate crisis. The impact of the climate crisis on health is well documented. Yet, less attention has been paid to the role of the health care industry in producing greenhouse gas. For this reason, this Committee has made a request for information from health care organizations regarding their work to combat the climate crisis. Their responses will be vital in helping us develop policies and supports to promote climate action in the health care sector.
Looking ahead to post-pandemic life, it is time to deepen our investments in the American family. Ways and Means Democrats have put forth policies to invest in child care and create career pathways for low-income parents. We also expect to work closely with you and our Republican colleagues to reauthorize the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program and critical child welfare programs and strengthen them for the future.
I’ve covered a lot, but as we all know, there are myriad challenges facing the health and wellbeing of Americans. I speak for all of us when I say how pleased we are to welcome an esteemed former Ways and Means member back to the Committee. I look forward to your partnership as we work together to improve the health and wellbeing of the American people.
And with that, I will now recognize Ranking Member Brady for the purpose of an opening statement.