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Mr. BURRIS. Madam President, in Washington there is a great deal of talk about what health care reform will mean for various segments of the population. In particular, many of us spend a lot of time talking about 47 million Americans who do not currently have health insurance and how they stand to benefit from our reform bill. This debate has centered on these folks, especially the 31 million people who will gain access to coverage under our proposal. In my opinion, this alone should be reason enough to pass health care reform. Expanding access to coverage will improve relative health outcomes and save money across the board. It will shift our focus from sick care to preventive care and will reduce wait time in emergency rooms. This will have a profound effect on the lives of millions, and it speaks to the profound need for comprehensive health care reform. But that is only a part of the story.
Many of my friends in this Chamber and many people across the country recognize the need to expand health coverage. But they are also worried about the effects that health reform will have on their insurance. Middle-class Americans hear all this talk about helping people with no insurance at all and they say: That is great, but I need help too. My premiums are going up, and benefits are disappearing. I am worried that I don't have stable coverage, or that I won't have access to care when I need it. How will reform help me?
I think it is time to take a deeper look at these folks. It is time to provide some answers to their questions. It is time to explain how our proposal would affect their lives. I wish to talk about what our reform bill will mean for the middle class and especially the minority community that have felt the worst effect of our economic crisis.
As I address this Chamber today, there are 88 million people who lack stable health coverage. That is almost a third of the total population who live in fear that their coverage would vanish at any time. Unfortunately, those fears reflect a harsh reality that it is impossible for middle-class families to ignore. In Illinois alone, there are some 612,000 people who have nongroup insurance. These folks will see their premiums go up by as much as 60 percent this year. I am sure my colleagues can agree, that is outrageous.
But it doesn't have to be this way. If we pass a final health care bill and send it to President Obama, middle-class America will start to see the benefits almost immediately. Our legislation would bring unprecedented stability to the market. No one would have to fear that their insurance providers would drop their coverage. No one could be denied care because of a preexisting condition. Our bill will give the American people more power and more choices. It will bring real competition to the insurance market. It will create significant cost savings, and it will restore accountability in the insurance industry.
For the average American, this means saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. It means more time with family doctors and less paperwork and redtape. It means free preventive care and discounted premiums for those who stay in shape, quit smoking, and control their weight. It means no one can be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, and no one will be forced to pay higher premiums because they get sick. If we pass a final health care bill, 1.8 million people in Illinois will be able to get coverage for the very first time. The 612,000 people in the nongroup market will have an option to buy affordable coverage on the insurance exchange. This will reduce their premiums and improve the quality of their coverage almost overnight.
But it doesn't stop there. One million additional Illinoisans could qualify for tax credits that could make it easier to afford insurance and perhaps, most importantly, 144,000 small businesses would benefit from a tax credit designed to make coverage more affordable. This strikes at the heart of the debate we have been having in recent weeks, especially as it relates to the middle class.
My friends across the aisle are trying to stop us from passing reform. They want us to focus on job creation instead. But what they fail to realize is that these two problems go hand in hand. We can't solve one problem without addressing the other. If we make health insurance more affordable, American companies and especially small businesses will be able to hire more workers. They will be able to afford full coverage for their employees, and there will no longer be any incentives to lay off older workers or to save on premiums. This will make a profound difference in the lives of ordinary folks in my home State and across the country.
About 75 percent of Illinois businesses are small businesses. Under the current system, only 41 percent of them have been able to offer health benefits.
But if we pass comprehensive reform--if we will extend a tax credit to 144,000 Illinois small businesses and millions of businesses nationwide--it will reduce the burden on working families. It will help businesses recover from the recession, and even start to expand again. It will help create jobs.
That is what our health care reform bill will mean for middle-class Americans: stability, security, better coverage; freedom to shop around and find a good price; competition in the market; renewed accountability. That is what health care reform will do for millions of ordinary folks across the country.
For minority communities, these effects will be even more pronounced. In Illinois, more than 21 percent of minorities do not have health insurance, compared with 12 percent of Whites. This places them at a greater risk for problems down the road--problems ranging from higher infant mortality to increased rates of chronic diseases in later life. Combine these risks with a higher property rate, and you have a recipe for disaster.
But our bill will help to change all of this. It will change that. Our bill will expand coverage, invest in preventive care, and help spur job creation. It will have a dramatic effect on the hard-hit communities and minority areas that need the help the most.
So on behalf of middle-class Americans and minority individuals and small businesses, on behalf of millions of ordinary folks in Illinois and across the country, I call upon my colleagues to pass this bill without further delay.
Our reform proposals will ensure that everyone is part of the solution to America's health care crisis. So let's seize this opportunity. Let's move forward together. Let's extend the benefits of health reform to the middle class. That way, America can move forward in this 21st century.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
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