By BEN RAY LUJAN
Since going to Congress, I've held several events in Farmington and San Juan County, I've spoken with many residents in the area, and I know there is deep skepticism about health insurance reform. I know that there are strong opinions on all sides, some of which are unlikely to change, but I'd like to try to outline a few of the benefits of the recently passed health insurance reform legislation.
I believe, as do many of you, that we need health insurance reform, even if we may disagree on how to do it.
Right now, too many families are being hurt by out-of-control health insurance bills, too many individuals are being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions and too many small businesses are struggling with a costly and inefficient system. During the last decade, heath insurance premiums have doubled, while wages have gone up by just 3 percent. And if the trend continues, premiums will double in the next decade -- costing families $25,600 a year. This is simply not sustainable.
Health insurance reform will rein in these costs, and it will do so while reducing the deficit by $1.3 trillion. How many times in the past 17 years has Congress had the opportunity to pass legislation that reduces the deficit by such an amount? Zero.
It reduces the deficit while covering 31 million Americans -- 95 percent of those who are uninsured. Not only is it morally right to extend coverage, it is fiscally responsible. Health insurance reform is good for the
economy. Every year the average American family pays a hidden tax of more than $1,000 just to cover the cost of the uninsured who are forced into emergency rooms to receive uncompensated care. By reducing the number of uninsured, we'll drive down those unnecessary costs, saving money for everyone. Health insurance reform could drive down premiums by 14 percent to 20 percent for people buying comparable individual coverage. And health insurance reform means that uninsured individuals and small businesses will have the same kind of choices of private health insurance as members of Congress.
Contrary to what you may have heard, health insurance reform is far from a government takeover. It strengthens and improves the health insurance market by creating insurance exchanges where people can choose from many private insurance plans. This will improve choice and competition.
When this proposal was developed, many Republican ideas were considered and many were included in the final piece of legislation -- ultimately, more than 150 Republican amendments are a part of this legislation.
This legislation begins to address medical malpractice lawsuits. Specifically, it allows individual states to act as incubators for ideas to reduce medical malpractice costs.
Health insurance reform also cracks down on Medicare waste, fraud and abuse -- a proposal that Republicans have supported for many years. Most importantly, it does so while still protecting and preserving Medicare for future generations, making prescription drugs more affordable and expanding preventative care services.
Also, the legislation provides the largest tax credits in history to individuals and small businesses to purchase health insurance, empowering them to save money.
This reform bill isn't perfect -- but it includes good ideas from many different opinions and sides -- ideas that will help families and small businesses right here in New Mexico. It stops insurance companies from denying people for pre-existing conditions. It provides more choice. It lowers costs and reduces our deficit. It stops insurance companies from dropping people who are sick. It helps small businesses by giving them tax credits. It helps seniors by making prescription drugs more affordable and protects their guaranteed benefits.
We've been debating how to fix our broken health insurance system for more than a year, and I believe that this is the time for reform for the sake of American families, our economy and our country.
Congressman Ben Ray Luján represents New Mexico's third district.