Since Teddy Roosevelt first called for health reform nearly a century ago, leaders from both parties have worked to fix a broken health care system that has left tens of millions without critical care, put small businesses at a disadvantage, and continues to break the banks of American families. With an increasing number of Americans suffering from our growing health care crisis, I came to Washington determined to work for that elusive solution.
I am very pleased that on March 21, 2010, the House of Representatives passed a bill, based on American free market principles, that will guarantee adequate and affordable health care to every citizen, rein in costs, expand consumer choice, lift the burden from small businesses, and lower the national debt by $1.3 trillion over the next two decades.
Covering the uninsured has been perhaps the most visible benefit of health care reform, and rightfully so. No developed nation on earth has left so many of its own people without necessary care, but when reform is fully implemented, the ranks of Americans with health insurance will increase to more than 95 percent.
But the 32 million Americans who will receive new, private health coverage are far from the only people who will benefit from the bill. By banning the most egregious practices of the insurance industry, Americans will see an end to the yearly double-digit rate hikes in premiums which have crippled the finances of so many hard working families. Costs will be further reined in by capping individual out-of-pocket expenses and providing free preventive care. Many, including 176,000 Louisville families, will also receive tax credits and stipends to help pay for the health care plan of their choosing.
The advantages for the average American are not limited to cost control, however, and can also be found in the reliability of coverage. By now we are all familiar with the horror stories of individuals dropped by their insurance carriers, denied benefits, or hit with a huge premium increase just when they need coverage most: when they fall ill. Those practices--along with the fine print that has left many shocked to find that a necessary procedure, medication, or doctor's visit was not included in their plan--will soon be banned. No longer will insurance companies have the ability to end a policy or charge more due to sickness or other health complications--whether or not these conditions were "pre-existing." For thousands of Louisvillians living with diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and any other illness, this provision ensures they will be able to receive and afford the vital care they need.
Seniors will also see major improvements in their health care coverage. Much of the savings from insurance reform will be invested into Medicare with a six percent increase expected for the program annually over the next decade and the solvency of the Trust Fund extended from 2017 to 2026. The bill also offers free preventive and wellness care for seniors, increases coordination of care between providers and hospitals, and bolsters nursing home care. These improvements will ensure that, after a lifetime of work, America's older citizens will retain their right to see the doctor of their choice and receive the highest quality care for generations to come.
Prescription drug costs will also be lower for the elderly as we permanently close the "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D that left millions of seniors with no drug coverage during part of the year. Assistance will arrive immediately with a $250 rebate this year and 50 percent discounts on name brand drugs beginning in 2011.
While families and individuals will receive much needed support, they are not the only ones struggling under the current system. The majority of American small businesses, with their premiums more than doubling this decade, can no longer bear the burden of covering their employees. As a result, more than 28 million uninsured Americans now own or work for small businesses. The reform bill will remove this enormous burden from America's entrepreneurs by making insurance affordable for their employees and immediately providing tax credits to those who choose to provide coverage. This includes more than 15,000 small businesses in Louisville alone. By removing this enormous disadvantage, smaller businesses will be better positioned to compete with large corporations for highly-skilled workers, and the leveled playing field will at last allow American enterprise to expand more effectively in the global marketplace.
With more manageable costs and reliable plans, the strength of American health care remains in the strength of our health care workforce--already the best in the world. Guaranteeing health care for Americans will have the added benefit of creating between 2.5 million and 4 million quality jobs nationwide over the next ten years. The bill provides for the training and support of doctors, nurses and other care providers, in addition to strengthening loan repayment programs. By giving aspiring Americans the opportunity to succeed in this growing field, we ensure that our workforce is large enough to handle our growing population and remains the most talented and dedicated in the world.
This has been an arduous road for the entire country, but with the cost of inaction so high, it was one well worth traveling. By 2016 annual health care premiums for the average American family would have reached $24,000, and over the next decade small businesses would lose more than $52 billion in profits each year due to high health costs, with the national debt increasing by $4 trillion. The result of this process will lower costs, improve care, expand choice, lower the debt, and--perhaps most importantly--ensure that no American ever again must make the choice between financial ruin and life-saving care.
I am proud to have heard from thousands of concerned Louisvillians on all sides of the issue--through letters, emails, calls, hundreds of face-to-face encounters, and a spirited and respectful town hall meeting. While I regret that Republicans failed to give the bill bipartisan support, the bill itself is in fact very bipartisan and includes many Republican ideas: the removal of the public option, allowing insurance companies to compete across state lines, tort reform, and abortion restrictions. Through the Reconciliation process we removed what I believe were reprehensible provisions -- the special deals for individual states, like the Nebraska "cornhusker kick-back", that were included in the Senate bill. I am disappointed that the public option was not included in the final bill, but I cannot help but feel pride that the process yielded what our Founders intended--a hard fought compromise that addresses the most pressing needs of the American people.
I believe that every Louisville family will benefit from this legislation, and I have posted numerous fact sheets on my website explaining what it will mean for individuals, seniors, small business owners, health care providers and others. To help answer specific legislative questions, I have also posted the text and a detailed summary of the bill, as well as information on outlining the transparency of the process, how we pay for health reform and a timeline for its implementation.
During my three years in Congress, there has been no single issue that I have heard more about from Louisvillians than health care. To this day, the enormous majority have told me they want change that will guarantee access to health care, rein in skyrocketing costs, and give them more choice and control in the marketplace. I came to Congress largely to accomplish these goals. This is a vote I did not cast for my party or for politics, but because I believe it is the right thing for our country and the right thing for Louisville. This was a promise I made to my constituents. It is the most important vote I have cast as a Member of Congress, and it is the one about which I am most proud.