These are my comments from the March 18, 1996 debate on Senate Bill 1441. The action in this legislation which troubled me the most is one that removed assisted health care benefits for 250,000 working poor Pennsylvanians. These are some comments that I made as I introduced an amendment to maintain these health care benefits for the working poor. The amendment failed 24-25.
The Senate Democrats and I later offered several other amendments, including ones to keep health care eligibility for medically needs persons who work an average of at least 20 hours a week, to provide health care assistance to those who were terminated from employment without cause within the prior 6 months, and to provide health care assistance to chronically needy persons starting at the age of 50 instead of 65. These amendments failed as well.
Mr. President, Senate Bill No. 1441 is being rushed through this General Assembly with lightening speed, because we basically do not want the people of Pennsylvania to really know what it is about. The bill was introduced on the 11th, considered by the Committee on Public Health and Welfare on the 12th, considered by the Committee on Appropriations on the morning of the 13th, which was Wednesday, our last day of Session, and now we find it before us today for final vote.
Mr. President, my amendment says that we will strip out of this bill the most heinous piece of legislation that I have seen in my career here. When this was originally proposed by Tom Ridge, his office said, do not worry, it only affects 133,000 people, not many when you consider the population of Pennsylvania, and also not many when you consider the fact that most people think welfare recipients are a bunch of cheats, lazy, good-for-nothing, stay-at-home people just looking to rip off the system.
Mr. President, we probed into this bill with some time. We asked the Secretary of Welfare whether or not it was true that the number was not 133,000 people but, rather, almost 260,000 people, and the Secretary of Welfare agreed. She said what they meant to say was that only 133,000 people each month would be denied basic health care, but in total, yes, it was almost 260,000 people.
Mr. President, whom does this bill hurt the most? This bill hurts those "decent, honest, hard-working Pennsylvanians" that Tom Ridge talked about protecting when he gave his first budget address. But it does not hurt all "decent, honest, hard-working Pennsylvanians," just the working poor. Mr. President, these people are not here asking for a handout. Many of them are trying to struggle day by day just to survive.
Let me tell you about some of the other faces of the uninsured. There is Regina Daniels, 58 years old, income of $450 a month. She was injured in a car accident in November 1995 when she was visiting her daughter out of State. She was hospitalized for 3 months. When she returned home, she had no use of her right hand and her doctor wanted her to have surgery. Regina worked as a teachers' assistant until she was laid off. Her VA and teachers' pension come to a total of $450 a month. She has no health insurance. She was admitted to Graduate Hospital and was certified for MNO, which is medically needy only medical assistance under the spend-down program. She had the surgery, and she now is in the McGee Rehab Hospital for physical therapy. Without the medically needy only program, she would have been a cripple without the use of her right hand. We are going to say to Regina Daniels, a 58-year-old woman with a $450 a month pension, be crippled for the rest of your life.
And there is Dorothy Bartlett, 48 years old, income of $1,201 a month. She was on workers' compensation from Greyhound Bus Company. The doctor found enlarged ovaries on an ultrasound and told her she needed immediate diagnostic surgery for possible ovarian cancer. She was refused admittance to the hospital because she had no insurance. PUP convinced the Osteopathic Hospital to admit her based on the availability of the medical spend-down. Dorothy worked out a payment plan for the first $1,000 of her hospital bills. After she accumulated $1,000 in bills, she qualified for Medicaid because her income was reduced by that amount and Medicaid paid the bills for her hospitalization. If Tom Ridge's proposals had been in effect, Dorothy would not have received the surgery she needed to find out if she indeed had cancer. That is another one of those lazy, good-for-nothing people.
Madeline Dwyer, age 52, income, none. Ms. Dwyer was laid off from her data entry position with Sears where she had no health insurance. She exhausted her unemployment compensation. She is currently eligible for MNO. While on UC she had an infection in her uterus. She went to Saint Joseph's Hospital in north Philadelphia where they helped do an application for a spend-down. She had a D and C performed on her. She is about to begin work for a temporary agency where she will still be without health insurance.
Mr. President, the list goes on and on and on, 260,000 people just like that. The kinds of people that you say to me you want off of welfare and working. Where are they going to find the jobs, Mr. President? They are not going to find them as top executives, they are not going to find them at a decent wage, and they certainly are not going to find them with health insurance. How can you, in the name of God, tell those people that they must suffer and not receive the basic necessities of life, health care?
Mr. President, I received a letter from Cardinal Bevilaqua over the weekend. It goes on with his deep concern about what the Senate is about to do. But there is one poignant sentence in that letter that I think needs repeating today. And it is, and I quote, "The poor deserve our support and must not be abandoned for the sole purpose of improving other less-essential interests in society." Mr. President, we are rushing to judgment on this at a time when we do not even know what the Federal government is going to give us in reimbursements. We are rushing to judgment on this at a time before we even have a chance to study our budget allocations.
Mr. President, I know of no finer moment than when government takes care of those who cannot take care of themselves. That is why governments were formed. (Movie Clip: 0.8 MB.) They were not formed for the wealthy. In fact, the wealthy hate government. They hate it because they pay more taxes than everybody else. The only thing they want out of government is police protection. They do not want anything else because they do not need it. They can afford health care. They do not need it.
Mr. President, I listened as Senator Jubelirer told us, well, we passed Thornfare and nothing happened. Nobody really gave us any grief, and look at the politics of fear you preached then. Well, something did happen, Mr. President, and it was very costly and continues to grow today, and that is the prison population is increasing. It is absurd for people in here to think that poor people are going to starve for Tom Ridge, and it is even more absurd to think that poor people in here are going to die and get sick for Tom Ridge. Mr. President, they will not. They have not in the past, nor will they in the future. They will do whatever they have to do to survive, and while I do not condone crime at any level, I can be understanding of their plight. And then what have you done? You have created more victims of crime, so that you can begin the cycle again to build more prisons, to put the people in who are robbing and stealing so that they can live and have health care and eat. I have not seen this kind of persecution since the days of the Mayor of Casterbridge, and we know what happened there.
Mr. President, those people in the middle class who are working today and who are scared to death that they might lose their job need this for a safety net as much as the people who take advantage of the program today, and you are turning your backs on not only that quarter of a million people but also on those millions of others who work hard every day, who try and live paycheck to paycheck, as my colleague from Delaware, Senator Bell, said, not wealthy people, not people who have thousands of dollars put away so that they can take care of their health care if they lose a job, people who will starve if they lose a job.(Movie Clip: 2.3 MB.)
And yet we can sit here tonight and say we have to hurry on with this. We have to move forward. We have to rush. And forget, Mr. President, forget about the other pain that you would cause with this. Forget about the hospitals that would lose money, forget about Eagleville Hospital that will probably close. Forget about the other hospitals that will close, and forget about the people who will be unemployed when they close and then added to the unemployment compensation rolls, people we will also have to take care of.
And why are we doing all this? Because I believe the gentleman from Blair, Senator Jubelirer, said in the Committee on Appropriations, my constituents want change. Well, everybody likes change if it is in their best interests. I do not think anybody voted for change for the worst. Certainly Tom Ridge promised change, and I guess everyone assumed he was talking about change for the better. No one assumed that he would be this extreme and this mean-spirited and this cruel and begin a war on the poor and working class of this Commonwealth. People invested their hopes and dreams in Tom Ridge, and he let people down.
It is our responsibility in this deliberative body to take up the challenge where he left off. It is our responsibility in this body to figure out another way, and there are alternatives to this. We do not have to do this today. We can wait for the Federal subsidies to see what happens. We can immediately institute health maintenance organizations for the other recipients of welfare and receive tens of millions of dollars in savings. We can sit down and figure out how to take care of these people.
But there does not seem to be the will to do that, I guess because many of them live in Philadelphia and maybe nobody cares about Philadelphia. Well, I do. I care about my city, I care about my State, I care about the people who live there, and I hope that each and every one of you would care equally. This simply is cruel, inhumane, unfair.
I can just about talk today because I have laryngitis. I got sick over the weekend. I went to the doctor and got my prescription paid for. Why? Because I am a privileged Member of this Senate. Yet we say to the people we represent, we can have health care, you cannot, because your only crime is that you are poor. And how do we do it? Do we do it with any sense of deliberation? Have we had a public hearing? No, you want to bury your head in the sand. You do not want to see the reality of these people. (Movie Clip: 1.4 MB.) You do not want them to come before you. You do not want to look at the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and see poor people who need help. White, poor people, I might add. You do not want to see that.
This bill is moving faster through this General Assembly than any pay raise bill that I ever saw... This is about human suffering. This is not a political issue, it is not a Democrat issue, it is a human being issue. How can you be this cold and callous to say to me that someone should die of cancer because you have other priorities? ...
Mr. President, is Pennsylvania trying to win the race to the bottom?... Are we trying to go back to the 1930s and push this thing back to a time when poor people were allowed to get sick and die? That is what I see here. I do not see any compassion here.
And then somebody says, well, where is the money? Where did the money go? We have no money for this. I contend that we do, given the amount of Federal money that will come in. But even if we did not, you mean to tell me that last year you gave away $286 million to big business so that you can come back and tell Madeline Dwyer and Harriet Seibert and Dorothy Bartlett and Regina Daniels that they should go out and get sick and die? That is your priority? Well, I give you credit. Keep your priorities straight. Maybe these people do not live in your district, but I know that there are some who do. I just hope to God that these 260,000 people do not go away in frustration and depression but rather come out and register to vote and vote and drive you from this building where you are about to commit their massacre.
Mr. President, I urge an affirmative vote. I ask those Members of the Republican Party who have courage to stand up to their leadership and vote for human beings instead of political power that they join me and vote "yes."
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo