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Moving Towards Real Health Reform


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Every American should have comprehensive health insurance they can keep if they lose their job or get sick. Instead, millions of Americans are one catastrophic illness away from losing everything. I get letters, e-mails, and phone calls every day from people who lost their job and their health insurance. Others find that fine print in their policy excludes treatment of their illness. Some are denied renewal at affordable rates because they got sick. Many are forced deep into debt or bankruptcy. That is why I share President Obama's commitment to health care reform. Without action, health care costs in America will double in less than ten years, hurting millions more families and crippling businesses that offer health insurance to their employees. However, for reform to be effective, it must make real and significant changes to the status quo. A critical reform would be to make insurance companies play by the same rules as every other industry in this country. The insurance industry is currently exempt from federal anti-trust
laws. This exemption allows insurance companies to collude, fix prices, andm exclude people considered high-risk or who have preexisting conditions. I have introduced H.R. 1583, the Insurance Industry Competition Act, legislation to repeal the anti-trust exemption and stop anti-competitive behavior by insurance companies. Another key to affordable and sustainable health care is a public insurance option. This plan would be open to all Americans, compete with private insurance, and allow people to choose a plan that best suits their needs. Many insurance plans hold virtual monopolies in thousands of communities throughout the country. Adding a public plan in these markets would increase competition resulting in better care at a more affordable price. Congress also needs to make sure the priority for the health care system is, patients, not shareholders. Over thepast decade, the profits of the health insurance industry have risen over 400%. At the same time, the average consumer's premium has doubled and
their health care benefits have diminished.

In 2004, the Republican-led Congress and the Bush administration passed the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, which I voted against. This trillion dollar giveaway was designed to subsidize private insurance and left seniors with the dreaded "donut hole." (The first $2,000 of prescriptions is covered, but the next $2,800 is not.) The House health care reform plan will eliminate the donut hole, making prescription drugs more affordable. The U.S. Senate has proposed taxing employer health benefits to pay for health reform. I don't agree. We should not tax people with health care to provide health care to those who do not have coverage.

In June, the House of Representatives released the "Tri-committee Health Reform Draft," the work of the three major House committees with jurisdiction over health policy--Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means. The draft includes a public option to compete with private insurers, eliminates the donut hole, stops insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and guarantees access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans. I expect that a final bill will be brought to the floor for a vote by the end of July. Then it is off to the Senate, with the expectation that President Obama will have a bill on his desk by the fall.

As health reform moves through Congress, I will continue to fight for affordable health care at a reasonable cost for all Americans. Providing health care is essential to our economic competitiveness and to protecting the middle class.

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