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Health Care Overhaul Narrowly Passes House


Location: Unknown

Dear Friends,

As you may know, late Saturday night, the House voted on Speaker Pelosi's health care overhaul, H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for American Act. Unfortunately, the 1,990-page health-care bill, which counts as the biggest expansion of the federal government since the New Deal, passed the House by a vote of 220-215. With this passage, the stage is set for a health care debate in the Senate. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has stated that any movement in the Senate could possibly slip into 2010.

Abraham Lincoln remarked "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts." After months of meeting about possible changes to our health care delivery system with constituents and business leaders, as well as hosting town halls and roundtable discussions, I can say that the American public has clearly affirmed their opposition to this government takeover of health care. I want to strongly state that I voted against this legislation, and you can find my specific concerns with this legislation outlined below:

H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, states in section one that this legislation "builds on what works in today's health care system, while repairing what's broken." I agree that improvements need to be made to drive down medical costs, but placing individuals under one bureaucrat-run umbrella does not build on what works or make any repairs. The bill includes the government-run public option, cuts Medicare and Medicare Advantage programs, and raises taxes on middle class families. In addition, the bill does not protect the interests of small businesses nor does it adequately address defensive medicine. And, in the midst of states struggling with fiscal constraints, it will burden them with more unfunded mandates from the federal government.

In the president's address to Congress in September, President Obama said, "Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have." However, a study by the Lewin Group shows that two out of every three people would lose their current coverage, including up to 114 million people who receive health benefits through their employer or other current coverage if a government-run plan "competes" with private companies. I don't see the choice in this.

In this bill, Medicare cuts total $162 billion. As a result, Medicare Advantage plans will drop out of the program, limiting seniors' choices and causing many to lose their current health care coverage. Medicare Advantage has been successful in providing seniors with choice, selection and value. This is especially true for residents of rural America, where seniors have previously not had sufficient private alternatives. Currently, over 600,000 seniors are Medicare beneficiaries in Louisiana, while over 10,694 seniors in the 5th District are enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program. Many have contacted me with concerns regarding the proposed funding cuts; let me confirm that I oppose funding cuts for any services covered by these essential programs.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has also said that H.R. 3962 will increase seniors' Medicare prescription drug premiums by 20 percent over the next decade. While the cost of living continues to rise, I know many cannot afford this increase. Medicare finances are rapidly deteriorating, and we should be working on real solutions that ensure the long-term financial stability of Medicare.

The bill includes taxes on individuals who do not purchase government-forced health insurance. It also imposes new taxes on businesses who cannot afford to fund government-forced health coverage for their workers, therefore violating the bill's new employer mandate and triggering an additional 8 percent payroll tax.

H.R. 3962 also prohibits the reimbursement of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals from Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Medical Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs), and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), increases the penalties for non-qualified HSA withdrawals from 10 percent to 20 percent, and places a cap on FSA contributions. Because at least 8 million individuals hold insurance policies eligible for HSAs, and millions more participate in FSAs, all of these individuals would not be able to keep the coverage they have without facing tax increases.

The grand total amount of tax increases included in this legislation equals approximately $729.5 billion over 10 years. Imposing these new tax increases in the middle of a recession - with unemployment numbers we have not seen since 1983 - will only harm the economy and kill jobs.

I have been concerned with the possibility of federal dollars being used to fund abortion. The original language in H.R. 3962 would have allowed the government to subsidize private plans that cover abortion with affordability credits. Section 303, (Benefits Package Levels), required at least one exchange plan in each premium rating area to provide coverage for abortion, and at least one plan must provide no coverage for abortion. However, by a vote of 240-194, the House adopted an amendment by Bart Stupak (MI-01) that would bar the use of any federal funds in the measure to be used for abortions, except in the case of rape, incest or danger to the woman. You will also be pleased to know I introduced a resolution H.Con.Res. 169, which urges Members of Congress to eliminate taxpayer-funded abortions from any proposed health care reform package.

Another provision I will not support is illegal immigrants having access to taxpayer-funded benefits. H.R. 3962 contains watered-down verification language for citizenship verification, which allows states to simply check a Social Security number and place of birth to verify citizenship status. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), more than 46 million Social Security Numbers have been issued to non-citizens. Some of these individuals may now be U.S. citizens, but others may continue to reside in the United States illegally.

I agree that improvements need to be made to our system currently in place. However, a solution should be built upon the principle that when individuals -- not the government, insurance companies, or employers -- are given control and ownership, we will achieve full access to coverage and see the entire system move in a more positive, patient-centered direction.

America needs economic relief in the form of tax breaks for working families and small businesses, and fiscal discipline in Washington. Instead, our federal government keeps pushing policies that will impose harmful taxes and increase our national debt, saddling Americans who are already hurting with even more financial burdens. We must work to find real solutions that will help create jobs and lower health care costs.

Everyone can agree that affordability, accessibility, portability, and quality should be the outcome of any overhaul of the health care delivery system. More specifically, it should be guaranteed that medical decisions are kept in the hands of patients and their doctors. In addition, the cost of insurance should be lowered, and in turn, the number of Americans who have insurance is increased. The American people deserve a plan that allows them to keep their health care coverage if they like it, and have the freedom to choose the plan that best meets their needs.

As I have said many times before, I will not support any type of health reform plan that raises taxes, rations health care, eliminates employer-sponsored health benefits for working families, or allows government bureaucrats to make decisions that should be made by patients and their doctors. Please continue to contact me to discuss issues of importance to you and your family.

Rodney Alexander

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