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Public Statements

Health Insurance Costs

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BURRIS. Mr. President, there was an article in last Thursday's Chicago Tribune, my hometown newspaper, that caught my attention. It is shocking news for many of my fellow Illinoisans. I would like to share it with my colleagues today.

According to State records, Illinoisans who lose their jobs and have to buy their own health insurance will see their premiums increase by as much as 60 percent this year. As the Tribune notes, this is affecting more people than ever before because of the economic crisis.

There are currently more than one-half million consumers in Illinois who have individual health plans. Their base rates, which stand at 8.5 percent at the moment, will jump to more than 60 percent. Those are just the base rates. Elderly folks will likely see additional increases on top of that. So will those who have a history of illness. So will people who live in certain areas or who have only had a policy for a short period of time.

Insurance companies will pile on additional increases for all these folks, on top of a 60-percent increase that will affect every Illinoisan with an individual health plan.

Let me remind my colleagues that these are mostly folks who have lost their employment, so they do not have a steady stream of income to absorb these increases, and they do not have a choice but to pay whatever the insurance companies demand or go without the coverage they need.

This is bad news by itself, but it gets worse because they are not the only ones who will see their premiums go up. Small businesses are finding it harder than ever to afford coverage for their employees because they are being hit with big rate hikes even though business is not as good as it was a few years ago.

Companies, such as Illinois Blue Cross, have even acknowledged they will be increasing their rates by an average of 10 percent across the board and much more for some of their customers.

We have seen this kind of thing before. Just recently in California, a health insurance company raised its rates by 39 percent, a move that sparked national outrage and investigations by State and Federal regulators.

When we hear about this kind of behavior, there is an obvious question for us to ask, the same question that many folks in Illinois will be asking when they get their insurance bills over the next few months. That question is why. Why are insurance companies raising rates by as much as 60 percent? Why does it keep getting harder and harder to pay for health coverage when benefits are being slashed at the same time? It does not make any sense.

But when Illinoisans pick up their phones and they call their insurance providers and they ask them why, they probably will not be able to get an answer. Most insurance companies do not release that information and do not feel they have an obligation to explain the outrageous rate hikes. Ordinary Americans do not have a way of finding out.

That is exactly why we need to pass comprehensive health care reform without delay to restore competition to the insurance industry so folks can shop around and try to get a fair deal, to help us hold insurance companies accountable so we can keep them honest, and to provide cost savings so hard-working Americans and small businesses can breathe a little easier in these difficult times.

The Senate health reform bill would have accomplished all these things and more. If we had combined our bill with the House version at the end of last year and sent it to President Obama, we would have had a law on the books by now. We would almost certainly not be seeing these dramatic premium increases. Instead, people's premiums would be going down significantly, and 3l million more Americans would have health care coverage.

This Chicago Tribune article would have read very differently if we had finished this health care bill a few months ago, as we easily should have done. But because of our inaction in Washington, because of delays and the obstructionism, these companies continue to have free rein.

As we struggle to find common ground between the House and the Senate, we must never forget the American people are locked in a much more serious struggle.

We have experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate exceeds 10 percent in Illinois, and it stands just under 10 percent nationwide. Millions have watched helplessly as their hard-earned economic security vanished overnight. Individuals and families are finding it harder than ever to make ends meet. One of the greatest challenges they face is paying for health insurance.

Under the current system, too many people are forced to choose between keeping food on the table and buying health coverage. It is a terrible choice. Premiums are so high it is almost impossible to afford quality coverage. As the Chicago Tribune reported, they are about to get even higher, but without insurance we are all just one accident or catastrophic illness away from bankruptcy or even death.

It is time to turn our attention away from the partisan fight that consumes Washington every day and focus on the fight that is taking place in America's heartland.

My colleagues and I must never forget why we entered public service in the first place. Why are we here? What is our purpose? We must always remember our actions and our failures to take action have real consequences for ordinary people from coast to coast.

This legislation was stalled and delayed for the better part of a year. As a result of this obstructionism, we are about to see premiums go up by 60 percent instead of going down.

If my Republican friends had come to the table and acted in the spirit of compromise and listened to the will of the American people, we would have passed health care reform and a dozen other things by now. But instead, it is the same old politics. It is easy to find excuses. It is very difficult to govern.

Once again, I invite my colleagues across the aisle to join us in these efforts, come to the negotiating table. You heard President Obama speak yesterday very vividly and forthrightly about what we need to do to bring health care reform to the American people. We have a fresh sense of momentum, a new opportunity to deliver on this promise of reform.

Let's keep having this conversation. Let's confront these challenges together as the American people have asked us to do. Let's move forward as one Congress, as one Nation. It is time for Republicans and Democrats to say enough is enough to big insurance: No more outrageous rate hikes; no more coverage denials; no more abuse.

It is time for Republicans and Democrats to reaffirm our commitment to the hard-working people we represent in Illinois and across the country. It is time to pass comprehensive health reform so every American can get a great deal on health insurance and foreclose the possibility of losing their life or their assets.

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


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