Earlier today Chairman Lynch sent out this editorial submission to newspapers across the state on why Rhode Islanders can’t wait any longer for Congress to pass real health care reform:
A flurry of new reports from the Treasury Department, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Robert Wood Johnson and the Kaiser Family Foundations underscore something we’ve known in Rhode Island for a long time – we can’t wait another year for health insurance reform.
According to recent national data from the U.S. Census, the number of uninsured increased from 39.8 million in 2001 to 46.3 million in 2008. Most of these individuals are in the middle class — people who work hard and pay their bills, but don’t get health benefits through their employers or can’t afford to buy it on the private market. In Rhode Island there are now approximately 123,000 people living without insurance; one accident or illness away from financial disaster. There’s more bad news. Those who have insurance aren’t necessarily any better off – new analysis from the Treasury Department found that nearly half of all Americans under 65 will lose their health coverage at some point in the next 10 years.
Bottom line: each one of us could suddenly find ourselves without health care coverage and we all stand to benefit from health insurance reform.
It’s been about 100 years since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform. Almost every president since has tried to reform our system, but they’ve failed – piling more burdens on American families and businesses with each missed opportunity. Over the past 10 years, health insurance premiums increased by 131 percent and the average family policy now costs $13,375 a year.
We’re closer than ever to passing comprehensive reform – four out of five congressional committees have completed their work and an unprecedented coalition of doctors, nurses, hospitals, seniors groups, even drug companies, are backing action this year – but if opponents of reform have their way, we’ll fall short again. Premiums will continue to rise three times faster than wages, or deficits will increase and eventually the United States will spend more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined.
President Obama’s health insurance reform plan takes the best from Democratic and Republican proposals to address three broad goals: provide more security and stability for people who have insurance, provide affordable, quality choices for those who don’t, and lower health care costs for American families, businesses and our government.
For the majority of Americans who already have insurance – through an employer, Medicare, Medicaid or the VA – nothing about the President’s plan would require them to change a thing about their coverage. In simple terms, reform will just make their coverage better by outlawing some of the insurance companies worst practices. It’ll be against the law for insurance companies to deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition, cancel your coverage when you get sick or limit the amount of coverage you can receive. Reform will also limit the amount insurance companies can charge for out-of-pocket costs and will require them to fully cover preventive care like routine checkups or mammograms. Today, almost a quarter of Americans pay at least $1,000 out-of-pocket each year for their care.
For the tens of millions of Americans without insurance, President Obama’s plan offers quality, affordable choices. The President’s plan would create of a new insurance exchange – imagine a marketplace or mall, but instead of shoes or books you comparison shop for health care plans – where individuals and small businesses pool their lot and leverage their purchasing power for more competitive prices. It works – this is how Members of Congress get their insurance. People (or small businesses) who still can’t afford coverage would be eligible for subsidies and tax credits to eek costs down even further.
The President’s plan also calls for the creation of a public insurance option, which has unfairly been the subject of much malign and distortion during this debate. Here are the facts: the public option is not a “government takeover,” not even close. No one would be forced to choose it and only those without insurance would actually be able to get it. As the President has said all along, the public option is simply the best idea he’s seen to inject more competition into the market and ensure that everyone has an affordable choice. According to a new survey from the New England Journal of Medicine, more than 60 percent of doctors support a public plan.
President Obama won’t sign a bill that adds “one dime” to our deficits. In fact, the majority of his plan will be paid for by finding savings in the existing system – money that’s either being used inefficiently or abused. Medicare Advantage is an excellent example. This program allows Medicare beneficiaries to receive services via private plans. The problem? We pay private plans an average of 14 percent more, for the same exact care. Egregious overpayments like that will end once we pass reform.
Democrats in Rhode Island are behind the President’s plan for reform. They’re not buying into the distortion and the lies that the President’s plan will create “death panels” (a claim that’s been thoroughly debunked), grant coverage to illegal immigrants (also not true) or result in the use of federal funds for abortion services (false – current law, which prohibits federal funding for abortions, would remain unchanged). And seniors are certainly not falling for bogus claims by Republicans that health insurance reform will cut Medicare benefits. That’s completely wrong – reform will simply end overpayments to insurance companies and eliminate hundreds of billions in waste and fraud that go to pad insurance company profits, but don’t actually improve the car seniors receive. (Side note: Since when did Republicans start championing Medicare? They cried “socialism” in an attempt to block its creation and GOP members of Congress voted overwhelmingly for a budget alternative that would have “ended Medicare as we know it”, effectively replacing it with a privatized voucher system.)
Rhode Island’s Democrats have had enough from Republicans who have decided that it’s better politics to kill reform than to come up with a plan on their own. But should we really be surprised? These are the same Congressional Republicans who opted for the “do nothing” Hoover approach to our struggling economy; they stood in near lockstep opposition to the Recovery Act, a package that’s keeping cops on the street, teachers in classrooms and gave 95 percent of working families a tax cut.
President Obama inherited an economy in shambles and escalating deficits, but he’s taken bold and necessary actions to rescue our economy from the brink and is starting to rebuild stronger than before. Health insurance reform is critical to that effort. The time for partisan bickering is over – now is the time for action. Democrats in Rhode Island will continue to support President Obama’s efforts to pass health insurance reform this year.