Ridge's Bill Is a Killer

The following descriptions of what Governor Ridge's health cuts will do, are taken from the unofficial transcript of the Pennsylvania House debate on May 15. They have been slightly edited. The bill is referred to as the "Conference Committee Report." Note that some Republicans, as well as Democrats, expressed concern that the bill will eliminate medical care from those who won't be able to get it any other way.

Rep. H. William DeWeese
(Democratic leader, Fayette, Greene and Washington Counties)

Mr. Speaker, we have before us today a medical benefits purge of extreme proportion without benefit of any public hearing, no public hearings, without any real understanding of what His Excellency, Governor Ridge, interlarded into the conference committee report, but that is exactly what has happened.

The Governor's staff has interlarded additional language into the conference report that we have not had any public hearing on, we have no knowledge of, and we are being asked to vote. I would ask my colleagues to make no mistake about it, Mr. Speaker, this bill cuts benefits for pensioners. This bill cuts health care for people with chronic medical needs. Over the next five years, Governor Ridge's people will effectively fire between 40,000 and 50,000 health care workers in our Commonwealth....

This bill is a killer. It is going to force a couple of hospitals, if not more, several hospitals, to close. We are going to be risking some lives of middle class people who live in rural areas, and Pennsylvania is a rural state.

Rep. Harold James

... If this august body of the General Assembly votes to concur on this conference committee report, we are voting to change the symbol of this state form that of a cornerstone to that of a tombstone, from a strong foundation to a crumbling wall, from a vibrant root to a withering stem....

Can the governor, in good conscience, allow Senate Bill 1441 to become law?

Mr. Speaker, when Pennsylvanians begin to die as a result of the governor signing this report, I foresee--upon proper complaint--the U.S. Attorney General's office considering an indictment against Mr. Ridge, possibly for homicide.

Furthermore, those legislators in both chambers of the General Assembly who vote for this conference committee report for Senate Bill 1441 should be indicted for conspiracy.

Senate Bill 1441 represents the difference between life and death for thousands of Pennsylvanians.

Senate Bill 1441 is a death sentence for those working poor Pennsylvanians who cannot afford to buy health care....

Rep. John J. Taylor
(R-Philadelphia County)

We also do not recognize the fact that the very people we are requiring to work 20 hours a week may in fact not be employable. That is even if we consider that jobs are available. Let me just list for you the type of people and the type of afflictions that they have, that we will be eliminating from the program with this vote: those recipients with diabetes will no longer have coverage, asthma, epilepsy, cancer, leukemia, HIV, a whole host of different types of mental illness, heart disease, sickle-cell anemia and a lot of health conditions, such as kidney stones, broken bones, tumors and pneumonia.

Rep. Kathy M. Manderino

[The conference committee report] does something really tricky. It says, now if you are one of the deserving working people who are working 100 hours or more a month, we are going to let you get these benefits, too.

Now, the minimum wage is $4.25 an hour, and if I have to work more than 100 hours a month to get these benefits, that means I am going to earn more than $425 a month. Well, guess what, ladies and gentlemen? If you earn more than $425 a month, you are not eligible for medically-needy only benefits, because medically-needy only benefits have an income threshold of $425 a month....

"Let me just share with you that snapshot by county for just a few of the counties, and I tried really to pick both urban, rural and suburban counties.... Of the affected people in Adams County, 92 percent of them are working unemployed, 66 percent of those people have worked within the last 12 months, but only 15 percent of them are going to have any coverage if this conference report passes. In Allegheny County, 83 percent of those people are unemployed people who work, 50 percent of them worked within the last year, only 8 percent of them are going to be covered after this conference report, if it passes.... Philadelphia County, 71 percent were working people, 38 percent in the last year, 5 percent will be covered by S.B. 1441....

Rep. P. Michael Sturla
(D-Lancaster County)

When you get to the health care portion of the bill, and you say, if we just cut off health care to people, and you tell them we are not going to give them health care anymore, and they do not qualify for health benefits, they will not get sick, and that is the argument that has been made, they just will not get sick. Well, that is not true. People do not get sick so that they can get health care benefits. I guess the only way that argument works is if you say, well, we just are not going to pay health care benefits to them, and they are going to get so sick that they are going to die, and if they are dead, they are not sick anymore. Now maybe if you are the undertaker, that might make sense to you, but I do not think that argument holds up no matter who you are.

Rep. Dwight Evans

This is not a welfare bill, this is a budget bill. This is nothing but about attempting to balance the State's budget.... We should not have cut those corporate taxes.... Now we have cut them. $594 million has gone out of the State's coffers just this particular year, so now it is health care cuts, it is education cuts, it is health center cuts, it is privatize this and it is privatize that, because the reality of it is, Mr. Speaker, that we are now at a point that we are cutting basic services for the purposes of CEOs.

Rep. Richard D. Olasz
(D-Allegheny County)

I have been around here for 15-1/2 years, and in those 15-1/2 years I voted in a very conservative fashion many times, but today if you consider S.B. 1441 to be conservative, I am jumping ship.... In other words, I am leaving the ranks of the conservatives....

In response to some of the speakers that have indicated that there are many, many jobs out there... let us move eastward from the city of Pittsburgh. J&L Steel, both sides of the river: leveled. The B&O car shops in Hazelwood: history. The Mesta Machine Works in West Homestead: history. U.S. Steel Homestead Works, 15,000 jobs.... It is gone. Go a half mile down the river to Duquesne Works: 6,400 jobs gone. Across the river and go down to McKeesport: 5,500 jobs gone. Shoot across the river to Swissvale, Union Switch and Signal: gone. Mine Safety: gone. Go up the river to Westinghouse Electric..., another 15,000 jobs gone.

Rep. John Myers

I believe that a "yes" vote for this bill is tantamount to us committing murder in our communities, and it is hard for me to believe ... that we are going to let people, almost 250,000 people be out in the position where they can literally die, because they are poor....

The fact of the matter is that many of the proposals in this conference report are short-sighted, irrational and mean-spirited, and it is my belief that every copy of any documentation that is associated with this conference report ought to have attached to it a warning sign, a skull and cross-bones warning sign saying the Ridge administration's health reform plan will be hazardous to everyone's health.

Rep. Patricia Ann Carone
(R-Butler County)

I would like to add that this bill takes effect immediately, not 30 days from now, not 60 days from now. But in my [Republican] talking points, I am told these changes also will spread the responsibility from taxpayers ... to the non-profit charitable organizations whose mission is to help the needy. We are admitting there are needy. But how fast we can go out there and get more contributions to be able to help these organizations that will now lose state dollars, because Medicaid will be taken from those institutions for their patients that they serve....

The irony is that those hospitals that do not have great reserves are in neighborhoods and communities that will never have those reserves, and we are killing those hospitals, and those are Pennsylvanians that deserve our care and concern as well. I ask for nonconcurrence.

Rep. Peter John Daley II
(D-Fayette and Washington Counties)

You know, we are all for welfare reform, but where are the jobs? Where is the economic development to bring new jobs to the areas that need the jobs to put people to work? What are we going to do about the young men and women that continue to leave the area?...

And I guess you cannot really understand the problems that I have, when 28 percent of my population is on public assistance.... I guess you cannot really understand the problems when 45 percent of my kids live below the 150 percent poverty level--45 percent of my children in my district, and I guess you really cannot understand when 53 percent of my seniors live below the poverty limit....

Poverty is contagious.... It is coming in your direction. I do not think it is a legacy we are going to leave for all Pennsylvanians. I ask for a negative vote.

Rep. Anthony J. Melio
(D-Bucks County)

In 1980, 72 percent of the workforce was covered by employer-paid health insurance. Remarkably, that number has gone down. As of 1993, only 37 percent of workers are covered. This is not likely to reverse itself....

Governor Ridge's sole goal is to reduce state spending in order to reduce corporate taxes. Ordinary middle class taxpayers will see none of the savings. Big business gets it all. The third tax cut for big business in three years....

Rep. Allen Gale Kukovich
(D-Westmoreland County)

"Did you ever see those westerns, and it was almost a standard, where the mob would get together and maybe go out and maybe lynch an innocent person, or burn down a place of somebody who they erroneously though had done something wrong. They picked out a victim.

"It is kind of the way I feel about the welfare issue. Time after time, almost every four years, we do something to innocent people."

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