CLOSING DAYS OF THE SESSION -- (Senate - November 18, 1999)

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   Mr. DURBIN. In the closing days of this session--it is interesting--we have spent almost a year debating 13 appropriations bills. Now we are trying to bring them to a close. We have some six or seven bills that will finally be lumped together in a huge package which literally no single Member of the Senate will ever read.

   It will come to the floor. And then weeks afterwards, when people pore through the details, they will call us in our offices and say: Did you know there was a paragraph in this bill which has an impact on some people or some businesses? In all honesty, we don't. We rely on our leadership and other appropriators. Frankly, we rely on a system that is flawed, a system that allows this to happen too often. It is an unfortunate system and, frankly,

   reflects the fact that this Congress has been very unproductive.

   When Members of the Senate return to their homes and are asked by average families in their States, what did you accomplish to make life better for the families of America, we will be hard pressed to point to any significant thing we have done.

   If we pay attention to the polling data of what Americans are worried about and what families are concerned about, we have missed the boat entirely. We have missed it entirely, when it comes to the question of the relationship between American families and their health insurance companies. Time and time again, when asked, these families respond that they are concerned about the fact doctors are no longer making decisions, nurses are no longer making decisions. Decisions are being made by insurance companies and their clerks.

   We are down to the wire. Most of the major issues that are on the minds of the American public are being buried in this session of the Congress. Most of the bills, such as the Patients' Bill of Rights, that could have helped working families are being stifled and gutted. The Senate passed a bill several months ago which was an embarrassment. It was, in fact, a protection bill for the insurance companies. It didn't protect patients. It protected the CEOs of companies that are making literally millions of dollars off health care in America.

   Over the steadfast opposition of the Republican leadership, the House of Representatives took a different course. They overwhelmingly approved, 275-151, a bipartisan bill with strong protections for all privately insured Americans. What a contrast. The Senate came up with an insurance version of the bill; the House came up with a version for American families.

   Well, keep hope alive. Can there be a conference? Can we come together? Can we finally come up with a bill to protect American families? No. The honest answer is the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate refuse to convene the conference to come up with the bill and the House leadership has rigged the naming of conferees so that their conferees are all members who opposed the House passed bill. So we leave and close this session at the end of 1999 no better than when we started. We have nothing to say to the families across America when they ask whether we have taken any steps to protect them when it comes to their relationship with these insurance companies.

   I am glad 68 Republicans in the House of Representatives broke from their leadership and voted with the Democrats for a real Patients' Bill of Rights. The bill the Senate passed on July 15 did absolutely nothing when it came to protecting Americans and dealing with their concerns about health insurance.

   Let us take a look at some of the differences between the two bills introduced in the House and the Senate. This chart shows the Senate Republican bill and the bipartisan bill passed by Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives. It goes through a long litany of things American families tell us they want to see in their health insurance policies: protecting all patients, whether they are employed in a small or large business or bought their own insurance; the ability to hold plans accountable if they make the wrong decision about medical care; the definition of medical necessity; access to specialists; access to out-of-network providers--the list goes on and on--can a woman keep her OB/GYN as her primary care physician if that is the person with whom she is comfortable.

   Some plans say no. Many women across America think that is a decision that should be made by them and their doctors. That is in this bill. And as we go through all of these, we find the bipartisan bill that passed the House of Representatives basically provides all these protections.

   Look at the scant protections provided by the Senate Republican bill. You can see why many people across America think we have failed in our most important mission. The bill

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passed by

   the Senate excluded more than 100 million Americans from basic protections of health insurance reform. Most of the provisions applied only to the 48 million Americans in big employer-sponsored plans. It failed to provide basic protection to millions of others.

   In my State, Caterpillar Tractor Company's workers would have been covered by the Senate bill; Motorola's employees would have been covered. John Deere's would be covered. But America's small business employees would be left behind by the Senate Republican bill. A farmer in Macoupin County, IL, who pays for his own family's insurance, and pays a lot for it, wouldn't be safe from insurance abuses. Public school teachers, policemen, women, firemen, and so many others would be out of luck.

   I will return to this in a moment. I will speak to another issue, which I believe the Senator from Massachusetts is going to address. That is the perilous situation we find ourselves in in the closing hours of the session when it comes to the critical question of fairness in organ allocation.

   We have a situation across America where over 4,800 Americans die every year waiting for an organ transplant. There are people in your State and mine sitting by the telephone hoping for the call that tells them they have a chance to live. It is hard to believe this has become a political issue. In fact, it has. An effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to make organs available across America to those in need is being stopped by an organization and a special interest group that really has put profit ahead of human well-being. I hope we can address this and address it forcefully. Let it be known on a bipartisan basis that we want to take the politics and the special interests out of organ allocation, that our dedication is to the men and women and children sitting by those telephones waiting for word of the availability of an organ.

   At this point, I yield the floor to my colleague from Massachusetts, Senator KENNEDY.

   The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Massachusetts is recognized.

   Mr. KENNEDY. How much time remains?

   The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, 9 minutes remain until the hour of 12.