A Health Reform Bill for All of Us: It’s Now or Never

By Martin Brown

womenagesstages1Last week, the public health insurance option Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put into his merged bill was stripped out, and a “compromise” allowing people over the age of 55 to buy into Medicare if they chose was added . . .

And then that compromise was also stripped out, to appease Senator Joe Lieberman, who threatened to take it to a filibuster.

Real filibusters are not ancient history. In July 2007, Democrats famously rolled out the cots to force Republicans to filibuster a vote on bringing our troops home from Iraq.

Doesn’t your health, your healthcare options, deserve to be discussed, in full, by your elected officials? It should be interesting to hear what Lieberman has to say as to why you shouldn’t enjoy the same health benefits as him.

A real filibuster requires Senators to talk without interruption. Besides the unusual physical discomfort for a group of mostly rich elderly men, it would subject those Senators to the full scrutiny of the vast majority of Americans who want a Medicare Buy-In or a Public Option.

As health reform advocate Bob Firtik puts it: “I don’t think those Senators have the guts to look the American people in the eye and say: ‘I get top-quality government healthcare for free, but I’m not going to let you have it – even if you’re willing to pay for it.’ Do you?”

Unfortunately, majority senate leadership — and the White House  — accepted these changes in order to move forward

The compromise, which took away the best way to truly hold the insurance companies accountable, provoked an angry reaction from health reform supporters.

All American citizens, both men and women, whether over and under 55, should be angry.

The new proposed Senate bill does include a number of new, tougher insurance reforms, including a patients’ bill of rights, restrictions on how much insurers can spend on administration and profit, and an attempt to hold down insurance premium increases.

However, the Senate bill, as it stands now, has major problems that need to be fixed.

When it passes, it will then move into conference with the House, which has a much better bill that it passed last month.

All of us need to make sure that the final bill that goes to President Obama’s desk provides good, affordable coverage and holds insurance companies accountable.

Here’s what must be fixed:

1. Make health care affordable
The Senate bill does not make health care affordable at work, and would encourage employers to hire part-time workers and offer bare-bones benefits. We need the final legislation to do what the House bill does – require all but the smallest employers to contribute a fair amount to good coverage for their workers.

And for those people who are self-employed or in between jobs, both bills need improvement on affordability. The Senate bill doesn’t do enough to make coverage affordable for low-and-moderate income families and the House falls short for middle-income families. The final bill should combine the best of both.

2. Hold insurance companies accountable

The Senate bill falls far short of holding insurance companies accountable, reigning in their costs, and preventing them from denying care.

  • With no choice of a public option, premiums will be higher and insurers won’t have to compete with a plan that puts our health ahead of profits.
  • The Senate bill allows annual benefit caps – increasing the risk of medical bankruptcy.
  • The Senate bill puts states in charge of setting up and running the new Exchanges. This will be costly for the states and result in weak consumer protections in states in which there is political opposition from governors to reform.

Without accountability, the Senate bill will not protect us from the insurance company abuses that have plagued this country.

The final bill must include strong consumer protections and insurance regulations for all consumers, and give the federal government responsibility for running the new insurance marketplaces. Generally, the House bill is better, but we need Congress to pick the strongest provisions from both bills to be sure that everyone with insurance benefits from strong consumer protections.

The final bill should also give us the choice of a national public health insurance option that’s available on day one.

3. Fairly finance health care reform
The Senate bill taxes the health care benefits of millions of workers to pay for health reform. There’s a better way to pay for health reform that won’t raise premiums and out of pocket costs. By contrast, the House bill asks those who can most afford to pay their fair share to finance reform, as President Obama promised during his campaign.

The final bill should ask the richest to pay their fair share for reform, instead of taxing our health care benefits.

What’s next?

On Thursday December 24, 2009, the Senate presumes it will pass its health care bill.

Then it will head into “conference” with the House bill. There, leaders from each branch of Congress, as well as the White House, will work to resolve the differences between the two bills and come up with something that can pass and be sent to the President’s desk.

Conference is an opportunity to stand up for the three priorities listed above, and make sure the final bill guarantees us quality, affordable health care, with the choice of a public health insurance option. The legislation that comes out of the conference will be sent to both houses of Congress for a final vote, and will require a majority in the House and 60 votes one more time in the Senate.

Public Broadcast System’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer take a look at the amount of corporate dollars being put toward lobbying against healthcare reform: almost $400,000 by medical companies and hospital corporation, and another $100,000 by  pharmaceutical lobbies.    Click here to hear that interview…

This is the largest dollar figure ever put to a lobbying issue.

Now ask yourself: Why would these corporate entities want to keep you from having a health care plan that is both affordable, and equitable?

Because it eats into their profits.

Their profits, vs. your health. Which you have already paid into, plenty.

What can be done?

You can ask Santa for fair and equitable healthcare coverage for all of us — but that will be a tall order.

Instead, pick up the phone and ask those that represent you in Congress.

In the coming days, you should be calling your senators, member of Congress and President Obama. Not a fun thing to do during the holidays, but guess what? They need to hear from you.

Click here to contact your local congressperson, senators, and President Obama here…

Ask them to stand up for the fixes we must see to get the best bill possible to the President’s desk. Tell them you deserve the same healthcare benefits and coverage enjoyed by our Congress and government.

You’ve earned it, with your taxes.

Don’t pay with your life, or that of a loved one.

— Martin Brown

Editor – Health Channel

RESOURCES:

Much of the information in this article was sourced through  Health Care for America Now, s a section 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization. Members of the HCAN coalition include a wide range of nonprofit and political organizations that are working to promote quality, affordable health care for all Americans. HCAN’s members are tax-exempt public charities, advocacy organizations and unions, as well as political action committees (“PACs”) and “527” organizations. HCAN and each member organization only conduct and fund activities appropriate to its tax and election law status. HCAN is related to Health Care for America Education Fund, a project of The Tides Center, a section 501(c)(3) public charity.

Other Articles You Should Read (courtesy MoveOn.org):

1. “Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Public Plan,” The New York Times, December 19, 2009
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85859&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=5

“The House Bill and the Senate Bill,” The Now! Blog, December 21, 2009
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85861&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=6

“Why We Need a Public Health-Care Plan,” The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2009
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124580516633344953.html

“Why a public health insurance option is key to saving costs,” Economic Policy Institute, June 25, 2009

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85866&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=7

2. “Assessment of Affordability Provisions in the Exchange in House (H.R. 3962) and Senate (H.R. 3590) Health Reform Bills,” Health Care for America Now

http://hcfan.3cdn.net/46590729111c307ccc_lom6b3a6r.pdf

“Finishing Reform Right: Fixing affordability before the President signs a health care bill,” The Now! Blog, December 22, 2009

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85867&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=8

“Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Individual Mandate,” The New York Times, December 19, 2009

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85860&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=9

“The House Bill and the Senate Bill,” The Now! Blog, December 21, 2009

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85861&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=10

“Senate health bill is launch pad,” Jacob Hacker, December 22, 2009

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1209/30871.html

3. “Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Abortion,” The New York Times, December 19, 2009

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85862&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=11

4. “Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Paying for the Proposals,” The New York Times, December 19, 2009

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85863&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=12

5. “Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Insurance Regulations,” The New York Times, December 19, 2009

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85736&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=13

6. “H.R. 3962, Affordable Health Care for America Act,” Congressional Budget Office, November 20, 2009

http://cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=10741

“Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Congressional Budget Office, November 18, 2009

http://cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=10731

“REPORT: How the Senate Bill Compares to Other Reform Legislation,” Think Progress, November 19, 2009

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=85670&id=18404-1287125-iCQPChx&t=14