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Public Statements

Congressional Budget for the United States Government for the Fiscal Year 2006

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, over the last century, the Nation has witnessed tremendous advances in medical science and technology. We now have treatments and cures for diseases and conditions that were at one time surely fatal. Thirty years ago, if children developed cancer, doctors couldn't save their lives. Today, more than three-quarters of children with cancer survive. Heart disease is no longer the leading cause of death because of significant improvements in medical treatment and surgical procedures. Americans with AIDS are living many years longer and spending more time at home and not in hospitals because of new drug cocktails that prevent infections and other deadly complications.

The unfortunate and bitter irony is that while the number of medical breakthroughs continues to increase, so does the number of Americans who will never benefit from them. Right now, 45 million Americans have no health care coverage, and this number continues to rise. Over a 2-year period, over 85 million Americans have not had continuous insurance coverage. In this land of plenty and opportunity, 350,000 uninsured children with earaches and sore throats will never see a doctor. Sixteen million uninsured Americans cannot afford to fill prescriptions. Uninsured women who develop breast cancer are 40 percent more likely to die, as are 50 percent of uninsured men with prostate cancer. The Institute of Medicine has reported that 18,000 adults die every year because they are uninsured.

For many Americans, Medicaid represents their only real hope of obtaining health care. Nationally, 53 million people rely on Medicaid coverage, including 25 million children, 13 million low-income adults, and 15 million disabled and elderly Americans. Nearly 16 percent of people who live in rural areas have Medicaid coverage, including more than 1 in 4 children in these areas. One quarter of African Americans and 20 percent of Hispanics rely on Medicaid, as do 9 percent of women.

In my home State of Illinois, Medicaid provides health coverage for 2 million residents. Over 30 percent of children in Illinois receive health care through KidCare. Nearly 65 percent of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid coverage.

Despite Medicaid's critical role in providing access to care, the Republican budget proposes to cut Medicaid by $15 billion. This cut translates into an estimated $287 million loss for Illinois. Experts report this funding could provide health care coverage for 200,000 children or 135,000 working parents in my State.

Some of my colleagues argue that we have no choice but to make large cuts to Medicaid because of the deficit. But these deficits were created by huge tax breaks for the rich, not by Medicaid, and we should not balance the budget at the expense of health care for low-income children, their parents, pregnant women and seniors. We cannot keep tax cuts for the rich and cut basic health care for the poor. We cannot retreat from our Federal commitment to Medicaid and leave the States holding the bag.

I agree the Medicaid Program is not perfect. The Smith-Bingaman amendment to create a commission to study the program and make recommendations for improvement is a reasonable approach. Sound policy, not politics or deficit concerns, should guide any changes to the Medicaid Program, and I am not convinced that we have examined or discussed the full range of Medicaid-related issues and options before us.

We cannot and should not deny millions of Americans access to basic health care. Medicaid is the Nation's safety net, and we should strengthen it, not destroy it. I am going to vote yes for the Smith-Bingaman amendment to strike proposed cuts in funding for Medicaid, and I urge my colleagues to join me.



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