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Public Statements

Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2007--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Madam President, let me begin by thanking the Senator from Mississippi for allowing me to speak first. I appreciate his courtesy.

I also congratulate the Senator from New Jersey for his outstanding statement, sentiments which I fully share.

I will be brief.

As I have traveled across the country during these past several months, there are few issues that show a greater disconnect between what the American people want and the way Washington works than health care. Every single year people put it at the very top of the list of their concerns. Every year more people lose their insurance or watch their premiums skyrocket or open up medical bills they can't pay. Yet whenever the issue actually comes up in Washington, they watch health care debates play out that are filled with half truths and scare tactics. They see insurance companies run ads telling folks they will lose their doctor or wait forever if universal health care is passed. They watch the industry spend billions on lobbyists who use undue influence to block much needed reform. At the end of the day, nothing gets done, and we move on to fight about something else.

To most Americans, we seem completely disconnected from the reality they are living every single day, especially when we have a President who has actually said, and I quote:

I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.

That is what passes for universal health care in the greatest, wealthiest country on earth--overcrowded, understaffed emergency rooms that raise everyone's premiums and cost taxpayers more money. It is shameful. What is even more shameful is that 9 million of the Americans who are forced to wait in emergency rooms when they get sick, who have no health insurance at all, are children--children who did not choose where they were born or how much money their parents have, children whose development depends on the care and nourishment they receive in those early years, children whom any parent anywhere should want to protect at any cost.

We can shade the truth and pretend there are only 1 million uninsured, as the President says. We can make excuses for this neglect, we can start getting into an ideological argument, or we can just ignore the problem altogether. But as long as there are 9 million children in the United States with no health insurance, it is a betrayal of the ideals we hold as Americans. It is not who we are, and today is our chance to prove it.

We know CHIP works. Because of CHIP, 6 million children who would otherwise be uninsured have health care today. Because of CHIP, millions of children are protected when their parents lose their health care. Because of CHIP, individual States such as my home State of Illinois are building on its success to expand health coverage even further. And because of CHIP, millions of children with asthma, traumatic injuries, and mental health conditions are able to see a doctor and get the treatment they need.

Even though the uninsured rate among low-income children fell by more than one-third in the years after CHIP was enacted, the trend reversed 2 years ago. Since then, we have seen growing numbers of uninsured children. That is why I am always puzzled when we start getting into these debates that are ideologically driven about whether Government should provide coverage. If market-based solutions provided affordable coverage options for these children, then it wouldn't be necessary for the Government to help provide coverage, because these children wouldn't be uninsured. The reason they are uninsured is because their parents can't afford private coverage.

Uninsured children are twice as likely as insured children to miss out on much needed medical care, including doctor visits and checkups. One-quarter of uninsured children don't get any medical care at all. Those who do get lower quality care. Even with the same illness and conditions, whether it is an ear infection or appendicitis, studies have found that uninsured children get different treatment and often suffer more as a result. One study even found that uninsured children who are admitted to a hospital with injuries are twice as likely to die as children who are admitted with health insurance.

To put this problem in the larger context, we know that when a child gets sick and can't get treated or receives inadequate treatment, he misses more days of school. When he misses more days of school, he begins to do worse relative to his peers. That can have long-term consequences on his chances in life. That is not something I want for either of my two young daughters or for any American child. This body should not want it for any child either.

Let's get serious and solve this problem. Let's reauthorize CHIP. Let's make sure that the 6 million children who are now covered through the program continue to be covered. Let's extend coverage to an additional 3.2 million uninsured children.

We also know the question of children's health care is tied to the larger question of universal care in this country. Because we know that when we cover parents, we also cover children. That is something we have seen in Illinois. When I was a State senator, I was able to help extend health care coverage to an additional 150,000 parents and their children. So if we are serious about covering every child, at some point we are going to have to cover every parent as well.

The American people have been waiting for us to act on health care for far too long. Starting by covering more children should not be a difficult issue to agree on. I urge every Senator to vote for this bill. I know the President has threatened to use his veto, which he has so sparingly used, to deny health insurance to America's children. I urge my colleagues to stand and fight that veto every which way we can. There is not a single person here who, if their child were sick and they couldn't afford health insurance, wouldn't be begging the Government to give them some help. We wouldn't be having these arguments. Let's show some empathy for the families out there, many of whom are working every single day, sometimes working two jobs and still don't have health insurance. Let's make sure they have what every parent wants, which is some assurance that if their child gets ill, they are going to receive the kind of care they deserve.

Let's cover our children and remind the American people who we are and why they sent us here in the first place.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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