SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — For a short time, State Senator Daniel Biss stood above a crowded primary field as the only candidate with a voting record on which to run. Now, that voting record appears to cast doubt on one of his cornerstone campaign promises.
House Representative Scott Drury (D-Highwood) has since joined into the fray as Democrats eye their favorite candidate to challenge Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.
Biss, a progressive from Evanston, recently rolled out an ambitious agenda to push for a single-payer healthcare system in Illinois while simultaneously pursuing single-payer at the federal level.
On several occasions, Biss has had opportunities to advance single-payer policies as a Springfield legislator, but his name is curiously missing from the roll calls.
In 2011, Biss voted against a single-payer task force. The Health Care Justice Implementation Task Force never came to fruition, in part, because Biss voted against it. The primary goal of the task force would have been to draw up a blueprint for how to implement a statewide single payer healthcare plan. Big businesses successfully lobbied against the measure through the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
In the same year, Biss passed on another chance to demonstrate his support for single-payer. Representative Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) filed the Illinois Universal Health Care Act which called for a statewide single payer healthcare plan. Flowers’ bill gained the support of eight co-sponsors, including some of the most prominent members of the House Democratic Caucus. Biss was not one of them.
Last month, Biss told a group in a church on Chicago’s south side, “There’s not been a vote on a single payer issue, a single-payer piece of legislation in Springfield so I don’t have a voting record on it.”
As a member of the General Assembly, Biss has the power to sponsor bills and file them with the legislature. To date, he has not filed a bill calling for statewide single-payer healthcare.
When asked about these specific votes, the Biss campaign dodged.
Instead, spokeswoman Abby Witt responded with a statement saying, “Daniel has supported single-payer for his entire career and continues to now. He’s been clear that not just nationally, but in Illinois, we need a comprehensive plan that includes universal access to health care, and a truly progressive plan to pay for it that isn’t balanced on the backs of the middle class, but instead by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.”
The campaign also provided a link to one of his public campaign promises published in 2008 which calls for a “state-based single-payer Medicare-for-all system” but was unable to explain why he has not cast one vote or filed one bill to fulfill that promise in the nine years since he made the pledge.
Rep. Drury did not respond to a request for comment. He was elected in 2013, two years after these single-payer measures were introduced.
Other primary candidates have weighed in with their healthcare policy proposals, but do not have a voting record to examine.
Billionaire J.B. Pritzker, a longtime political donor and activist, outlined his plan for a statewide public option plan last week. Pritzker’s plan would offer Illinois residents discounted health insurance coverage at a cheaper rate than private insurance companies. Pritzker would pay for the discounts using subsidies provided in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Chicago city alderman Ameya Pawar hit Pritzker’s plan from the left, saying, “A public healthcare option for Illinois doesn’t go far enough,” adding, “Illinois needs a single-payer healthcare system.”
Biss echoed Pawar, saying, “Health care is a human right, and I’m disappointed that J.B. considers it an option. We need a single-payer health care system in Illinois that covers everyone. I call on J.B. to put aside half-measures like optional care and embrace health care for everyone.”
The Chris Kennedy campaign has not yet published a fully formed policy proposal. Spokeswoman Liz Utrup responded to our request for comment saying, “Chris Kennedy believes we are moving toward a single payer system. We need to protect and expand critical programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The deeper problem that needs to be addressed is driving down out-of-control costs like prescription drugs and rising deductibles and we need to address public health crises like mental health and substance abuse.”