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Glendale News-Press Op-Ed: Health Reform is Due


Location: Washington, DC

Glendale News-Press Op-Ed: Health Reform is Due

Congressman Adam Schiff

If you're like many Americans, you have a health-care plan that provides quality medical care, but costs you a small fortune. Every year, your premiums increase far faster than your wages — three times faster in fact — and your health-care costs continue to take a bigger bite out of your paycheck. And at some point in your life, one of your family members has had a serious injury or illness that put a major strain on the family finances but didn't force you into bankruptcy.

That's if you're lucky. Many millions of Americans have no health-care insurance and receive their care at the emergency room. Millions more must make the difficult choice of whether to pay their medical bills or pay their mortgage because they cannot afford to do both. And then there are those whose medical bills became so severe, they are forced into bankruptcy or foreclosure — two thirds of all bankruptcies and half of all foreclosures are a result of a health-care crisis in the family.

Last year, during one of my telephone town halls, a constituent introduced herself as one of my neighbors in Burbank and described an all-too-common situation. One of her children, who had attended school with my daughter, had become ill the year before. Because of a program called "Healthy Families," her daughter received quality medical care and made a full recovery.

But now the caller herself was sick, and because she and her husband were self-employed and unable to afford insurance, she was at her wit's end as to where to go for her own medical treatment. She expressed concern about going to the county hospital's emergency room for her care, and asked: "Is there any hope for people like me?"

At the time, there wasn't much hope to offer those who were self-employed and couldn't afford health insurance, or those who were small or mid-size employers and couldn't afford to provide coverage for their employees any longer. There also wasn't much hope that if you had a pre-existing condition and lost your health insurance, you could ever find a new policy.

But now, the president and Congress are working in earnest on a major reform of our health-care system designed to bring down the costs of medical care, to provide stable coverage that cannot be taken away and won't be lost when you change jobs, and to give Americans the choice of staying in their current plan, buying new private insurance at reduced costs through an exchange, or seeking coverage through a public option.

As a nation we spend almost twice as much per person on health care as any other country, or about 16% of our gross domestic product. And for all the money we are spending, our health-care system does not produce the best outcomes. The United States ranks 37th in terms of health system performance, and we are far behind many other countries when it comes to infant mortality, life expectancy and preventable deaths. This is notwithstanding the fact that we have many of the best trained doctors and nurses, the finest facilities and most advanced specialty care in the world.

Our current level of spending is unsustainable and will eventually bankrupt the country if it's not fixed. I have been working hard to push for reforms in the health-care package that will bring down health-care costs by tying payments to outcomes, rather than the quantity of tests being run; by ending the government's overpayment for prescription drugs; by empowering an independent commission to put health-care cost reductions before the Congress for an up-or-down vote; by introducing competition with the private plans through a public option; and by investing in prevention and primary care.

A successful reform package should provide the kind of stability where you will always have coverage, even if your job doesn't provide it, where it is easy and affordable to shop for health insurance through an exchange, where you can't be denied health coverage for a pre-existing condition or charged more because of your gender.

A successful reform should also ensure that the costs of health care don't threaten your family's finances, that your doctor is paid for making you well and not ordering unnecessary tests, and that your health-care premiums are spent on actual care, not paying for piles of paperwork and red tape.

I believe these objectives can and must be met, and I am pushing for the inclusion of additional reforms to bring down the costs of health care in the reform package. After all, affordable, quality health insurance is the key to a productive work force, small business innovation, and the economic as well as health security of our families and nation.

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