T’was the Night Before Health Care…

Senator Roland Burris of Illinois talks about blacks against Obama, the death of the public option, and how health care reform will arrive just in time for Christmas.

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Getty Images


RB: In terms of disparities, you will see that there are studies that are required by [Health and Human Services] in response to diabetes and obesity, and those programs were added to the bill. As well as the cost curve being bent, and the savings taking place, and the uninsureds that are going to be insured. Thirty-one million more individuals—most of them blacks and Hispanics and minorities and poor whites—will get insurance. And it’s those that are employed, working without insurance, that is really key to this legislation.


On October 15 you said: “Let it be clear to all of my colleagues in this august body: I will not vote for any health care bill that does not include a public option.” Are you going back on your word?

I would love to do better. But I have had all my meetings with the sponsors of the bill; I met with the president’s staff. I met with the president. And my position is that we are going to curb insurance companies. And then the term “public option” pops up. It sounds good, but what I was talking about was competition, cost and accountability. All three of those measures are met in this bill. Are they met to the degree I would like them to be met? No. Are they taking place where you have to have exchanges and if the insurance companies raise their rates prior to this bill going into effect, then they will be excluded from the exchanges? Yes. There is real accountability there. And don’t forget taking out preexisting conditions, taking out the caps, taking out the exorbitant premiums, increases, or denying coverage for someone who could have gotten a preexisting condition. All of that is taking place.


For black families struggling through the recession, this health care doesn’t seem to help with the bottom line—jobs. What do you say to that?


It’s both. If we don’t do something about health insurance, they’re paying $13,000 a year right now. In five years they are going to be paying $26,000 a year to get decent, basic health insurance. Based on that alone, this is a major issue for the average family. We have a long way to go. We have not gotten it out of the Senate, and then you have to go to conference, and the House bill is different from the Senate bill. So this is not done yet.  We are just working and praying and hoping that we will come out with a much improved bill that will then be able to get 60 votes in the Senate. And those votes in the Senate are very contingent. My vote—if they deal with costs and accountability, then I’m on board.