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Dick Durbin, D-IL
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for his opening remarks. He has addressed an issue relative to a pending amendment offered by the Senator from Nevada. He makes note of a very critical flaw in this amendment. The Senator from Nevada is restricting the ability of the victims of medical malpractice to go to court to recover by restricting the attorney's fees that can be paid, contingency fees, because people usually don't have enough money to
buy an attorney. The attorney takes the case and says: If you win, then I get paid. If you lose, I don't get paid. Contingent fee basis.
The Senator from Nevada is restricting the ability of these attorneys to represent plaintiffs, victims, on a contingency fee basis, but does not restrict the defense attorneys and the amount they are paid. As the Senator from Pennsylvania noted, the record is clear, the amount of money being paid to defense attorneys in medical malpractice cases is 50 percent higher on an annualized basis than that paid to those representing victims.
I won't question the motive of the Senator from Nevada, but the effect of his amendment is to reduce the likelihood that an injured victim will be able to go to court and be represented by an attorney to make their claim. Our system of justice has a courtroom and jury and a judge there to make that final decision. What the Senator from Nevada does is preclude and reduce the possibility that victims can recover. How many people die each year in America from medical malpractice? The Institute of
Medicine told us 10 years ago the number was 98,000 people a year. Many more are injured because of medical malpractice. How many lawsuits, claims are successfully filed each year in America for medical malpractice, for injuries and deaths? About 11,000. A very small percentage of the actual victims of malpractice go to court. It doesn't happen. Those who try to go to court are usually not rich people so they do it on a contingency fee. What the Senator from Nevada is trying to do, unfortunately, is to close the courthouse door to favor the defense of a malpractice case over the victim. That, to me, is unfortunate, and I hope we are successful in defeating it. For those who are following the
proceedings of the Senate today, either in person or through C- [Page: S12527]
SPAN, it is an unusual--not unprecedented but unusual--meeting on Sunday. But it is appropriate that we would do something extraordinary when you consider the matter at hand. This 2,000-page bill is the health care reform bill that has been in
the works now for a year. It has been considered by three committees in the House and two in the Senate. The Presiding Officer from New Mexico has the dubious distinction of having been privy to all of the Senate committee proceedings and some extraneous proceedings. He has probably been subjected to more debate on this issue than any other Member.
A lot of hard work has gone into this bill. Some critics say it is too long. There are too many pages. When you consider that we are tackling our health care system, which comprises one-sixth of our gross domestic product--$1 out of every $6 spent in America--it is understandable that we would need to work carefully and try in a comprehensive way to address all the issues.
So what does this bill do? First, it is historic in that it moves us toward 94 percent of the American people having health insurance. Today about 50 million people don't have health insurance. That is not counting the people with bad health insurance. These are people who have no health insurance. Some have lost jobs, some worked for businesses that can't afford insurance, and some can't afford to buy it themselves, 50 million of them. Thirty million are going to move toward coverage in this
bill. It will be the largest percentage of Americans with the security of health insurance protection in our Nation's history. That is what this bill does.
Secondly, this bill makes health insurance premiums more affordable. For over 80 percent--some say over 90 percent--of the people in America, they will see either a reduction in premium or a slowdown in the rate of growth in health insurance premiums. That is something that is absolutely essential because health insurance premiums are breaking the bank. Ten years ago, the average health insurance plan for a family of four cost $6,000 a year. That is a lot of money, $500 a month. That was 10 years
ago. Now it has doubled. The average is $12,000 a year, $1,000 a month for a family of four for health insurance coverage. That is the average, to work and earn $1,000 a month strictly for health insurance. What is the projection in 8 years? That it will double again to $24,000, that you will be working and earning $2,000 a month just to pay for health insurance. That is unaffordable for so many people. That is why that is one of the highest priorities in this bill.
The third thing this bill does is to give people across America a fighting chance against the health insurance
companies. These private insurance companies are some of the wealthiest companies in America and pay the highest amounts to their CEOs each and every year. What we are trying to do is to make sure they don't turn down people when they need help the most. Too many of these insurance companies, as has been noted many times, raise the issue of preexisting conditions and say: We are not going to cover that particular surgery or that particular drug because you had a preexisting condition you didn't
disclose. They game the system against the person who is sick. That is going to change. This bill will provide for coverage despite preexisting conditions, and we won't allow the insurance companies to assert a limit, a lifetime limit on what they can pay.
You know what happens. You get seriously ill, and they cut you off. What is happening today is that two out of three people who file for bankruptcy in America do so because of medical bills, bills they can't pay. That tells us that the number of people facing this threat is huge. But even worse is the fact that some 74 percent of those filing bankruptcy already have health insurance. It turns out the health insurance was not worth much when they needed it.
The last thing this bill does--and one of the most important things--is it doesn't add to the deficit. President Obama told us to do this job but don't make the deficit worse. The Congressional Budget Office, which is the referee and umpire when it comes to the cost of bills, came back and said our bill will actually reduce the Federal deficit by $130 billion over the first 10 years and $650 billion over the next 10. Bringing down the cost of health care brings down the cost of government health
programs. It saves us money, saving families and businesses money, saving the government money. It is the largest deficit reduction bill ever considered by Congress. It is before us now.
It is no surprise--we heard this morning from the Republican Senate leader, and we have heard before--that there are those who are arguing this is a dangerous bill and this bill should not be passed. I asked my staff to do a little bit of work on previous debates right here on the floor of the Senate and what was said.
In 1934, when Congress was considering the Social Security Program, which gave everybody a basic retirement plan, an insurance plan for retirement, even after the Social Security bill came to the Senate floor, not including health insurance, a Republican Senator from Delaware, Daniel Hastings, said on the floor about Social Security:
I fear it may end the progress of a great country.
A Congressman from the State of New York, James Wadsworth, in the same debate over Social Security, said that the passage of Social Security:
..... opens the door and invites the entrance into the political field of a power so vast, so powerful as to threaten the integrity of our institutions and to pull the pillars of the temple down upon the heads of our descendants.
We know that when former Senator from Ohio Robert Taft was addressing the effort by President Harry Truman to have universal health care in America, he said:
I consider it socialism.
It was used against Lyndon Johnson. That same charge was used against Bill Clinton. It is virtually being used today. When we hear the Republicans who are opposing this bill come to the floor, I have a basic question to ask them. We have been at this debate for a year. Where is your bill? What do you want to do?
Oh, they tell us: We have some bills, and you are going to see them any day now. Well, I would like to. I would like to see the comprehensive health reform bill from the Republican side of the aisle. This is ours, and it has been on the Internet for 2 weeks for everybody in this Nation to read word by word, line by line. Sadly, there is no Republican bill.
I know there are two possible reasons for that. This was hard work. This was not easy politically or otherwise and they have not engaged in that hard work. What we have seen are press releases and speeches, graphs and pictures, but no bill, no comprehensive health care reform bill from the Republican side. Secondly, there are many on that side of the aisle who like this system of health care. They agree with the health insurance companies: Let's keep it the way it is.
But Americans know better. We are going to work today in the Senate on this bill, as we should. While we are working today, 14,000 Americans are going to lose their health insurance. Mr. President, 14,000 Americans lost their health insurance yesterday, and 14,000 will lose it tomorrow, and every single day of the year. That is how many people, despite their best efforts, lose their coverage.
We have to stop that. It is time for us to provide the kind of peace of mind that every single family deserves in America when it comes to quality and affordable health care.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.