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Tax on Bonuses Received from Certain TARP Recipients--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BURRIS. Madam President, I just heard an interesting colloquy between two distinguished friends from across the aisle in reference to health care. Although I found that back-and-forth dialogue very interesting, one problem with the dialogue was it was misinformation that my distinguished colleagues are putting out on this floor and to the people of America. They keep saying we should start over on health care. They are saying we didn't incorporate any of their proposals. And that is the farthest thing from the truth.

The work on this bill took over a year, and they had all the input. Even the President of the United States incorporated their ideas into the bill we passed from this distinguished body, in the bill that is now lying between the House and the Senate. So while I found their colloquy very interesting, I hope the American people will begin to look at what is being put out here, what is being said here, and realize that our distinguished colleagues across the aisle don't want to see health care reform enacted. Evidently, they want to continue with the same old ways, with the insurance companies controlling this health sick system, not health care system. It is a profit-making system for them. I hope the American people will see right through their comments.

I want to talk today about whether there are real winners and losers in this health care debate. Since the beginning of the debate over health care reform, we have heard an awful lot about the political problems associated with taking on this issue. It is difficult, it is divisive, and there are no easy answers, and for those reasons, it is no wonder our elected leaders have been unable to solve this problem for almost 100 years. This is nothing new. We have been working on this in this body for over 97 years.

There will never be a shortage of reasons to put off the tough questions, to avoid the tough issues and kick the can down the road. There will never be a shortage of roadblocks and excuses. Over the last century, we have heard an awful lot of them. But we must not settle for that any longer. We must reject the tired politics of the past and the tired politics of right now--and the politics we just heard from my distinguished colleagues from across the aisle. It is now time to lead. It is time to say: Enough is enough--to stop shrugging off the difficult problems and to meet them head on. It is time to fundamentally change the conversation.

We have heard far too much about the political winners and losers in the health care debate and not enough about the real winners and losers in America's health care system. So let us refocus the terms of this discussion and keep the perspective where it should be: on the ordinary Americans who need our help, the ordinary Americans who need health care coverage now.

Because this isn't about electoral math. It is not about poll numbers or partisan talking points or cold statistics. It is about hard-working folks who are suffering and dying every single day under a system that is badly in need of repair. It is about the people whose lives and livelihoods are on the line. Our success or failure at passing reform will have political consequences for some of the people in this Chamber, but I believe those concerns are insignificant compared to the real consequences it will have for ordinary Americans all across this country.

So I call upon my colleagues in the Senate and my friends in the media to focus our attention on what matters. Let's talk about what reform means for regular folks, not politicians or special interests or even insurance lobbyists. This is bigger than politics. This is about addressing a national problem that has touched untold millions of lives over the past 100 years.

As we debate this legislation today, there are 47 million people in this country without any insurance coverage at all, and there are another 41 million people who lack stable coverage. For every year we fail to pass reform, another 45,000 Americans will die because they do not have health insurance and can't get access to the care they need. These are the people who are depending on us--folks in Illinois and every other State in this Union. These are the people who stand to benefit from our reform proposals and who continue to suffer every single day that we fail to take action; for example, people such as Linda and her husband, back in my home State of Illinois. In 2008, they were paying $577 per month for health insurance under the COBRA program. They each had a clean bill of health and had no reason to fear illness or injury. But when their COBRA coverage ran out on the first day of 2009, their premiums jumped up to over $1,000 per month. They had no idea why the change was so drastic. They were perfectly healthy. Yet their monthly bills had almost doubled. So to try to save money, Linda and her husband switched to the individual insurance market and got a plan with a $5,000 deductible and a large copay. The switch was easy. They didn't even have to get a physical exam. Like many Americans, they had every reason to believe their coverage was secure.

When Linda's husband got sick in October of 2009, he had a successful bypass surgery. The insurance provider approved the procedure ahead of time. But once the surgery was complete, the company simply changed its mind. Even though Linda and her husband had never been treated for previous heart problems, and even though he had not even been diagnosed with anything, Blue Cross/Blue Shield suddenly decided he had a preexisting condition and they rescinded his policy. His coverage ended on the spot, and he and his wife were left out in the cold. Today, they owe medical bills that add up to $208,000, with $89,000 about to go into collection.

Linda and her husband are just like millions of us in this country; they were perfectly healthy; they thought they had stable insurance; they paid for quality coverage. And then, when they needed it most, their insurance company walked away from them. That is absurd. That should not happen to anybody in the United States of America.

I think Linda said it best when she said:

They did nothing but take our money, and now they're sticking us with the bill.

This is outrageous and it is totally unacceptable. Yet this is the reality faced by millions of Americans every single day. Insurance companies should no longer be allowed to pull this kind of bait-and-switch action on anybody. That is why we need to pass reform that will give people like Linda the ability to hold insurance companies accountable so they can stop abusing their customers. That is why we need to restore robust competition to the market, so people can shop around if they don't think they are getting a fair deal with their insurance provider. That is why we need reform that will provide real cost savings, so coverage is affordable for Linda and her husband, along with millions of others like them. These are the people our legislation is designed to help.

I think we have heard enough talk about the political winners and losers in the health care debate. We have heard enough about Washington. Because across America, the only real winners are the big insurance corporations that continue to rake in the cash, making record profits. We saw the reports given on their income for 2009--record profits for the insurance companies, with less coverage, and millions of Americans being denied coverage. The only real losers are the hard-working Americans who can't afford coverage and can't get treatment.

It is our duty to fight for these folks, and I would urge my colleagues to honor this sacred trust. The other day President Obama gave a stern speech that captured the spirit of this fight. He called for bipartisan cooperation and urged regular Americans to get angry and to get fired up and to say: We aren't going to take it anymore. He asked them to get involved in this process so we can pass this bill and make reform a reality for Linda and millions of others.

My colleagues, let us take President Obama's speech as a wake-up call. Let us listen to the will of the American people. We have moved this legislation further than any other Congress. At this time, we cannot let this legislation not become effective. It should become effective, it will become effective, and we must finish the job.

Madam President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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