Congresswoman Niki Tsongas released the following statement on the Affordable Healthcare for America Act, which was approved by the House of Representatives today by a vote of 220 to 215. Similar legislation is awaiting consideration in the Senate.
"For much of this year, both the House and Senate have been working on health care reform legislation with the goal of providing health care coverage for all Americans and lowering the unsustainable costs in our health care system. This is an undertaking that has been decades in the making and this evening's passage of the America Healthy Choices Act represents a historic moment that lends great momentum to finally achieving this most important need and our late Senator Ted Kennedy's lifelong dream.
"At its core, this health care reform legislation is built on the principle of "shared responsibility". Individuals will be required to have coverage, employers will be required to provide coverage, and the government will assist in the purchase of insurance for those who cannot afford to it on their own. In this regard, it is very similar to the universal health care system in Massachusetts that we already have.
"As this health care bill was crafted over the last several months, I solicited input from Fifth District residents at town hall meetings, during telephone town hall meetings, and through my Congress On Your Corner program. I also met extensively with doctors, nurses, hospitals, community health center professionals, insurance company representatives, pharmaceutical company representatives, nursing home administrators, patient advocacy groups, medical device company representatives, and other health care stakeholders in our district.
"I heard over and over again that driving down the high cost of health care is our greatest challenge. I also heard from so many constituents who were worried about losing their health care coverage in this economic downturn, and from employers who were finding it increasingly difficult to provide coverage to their employees.
"The Affordable Health Care for America Act takes many steps to address our system's out of control costs. First, by requiring insurance companies to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms, colonoscopies, and routine vaccinations. For example, if a senior chooses not to get vaccinated for the flu because s/he could not afford the flu shot, s/he is at great risk of catching the flu and requiring expensive hospitalized care. We can avoid these costs by providing access to preventive care.
"But more importantly, this bill makes significant steps towards changing the way we pay for healthcare, by moving towards a global payment system for doctors rather than a fee-for-service system. These types of payment structures have been extremely successful in reducing costs in places such as the Cleveland and Mayo Clinics, while maintaining outstanding levels of care.
"It also encourages the formation of Accountable Care Organizations that allow hospitals and doctors to work together to manage and coordinate care in order to avoid duplicating tests and treatments and allows doctors in the organization to get paid a salary rather than a fee for each service. And it will also bring down costs by investing in electronic health records, and by ensuring that patients get the best care possible, not the most expensive care available.
"Our current fee-for-service system is part of the reason why health care premiums have doubled in 9 years, growing 3 times faster than wages. Without reform, the cost of health care for the average American family is expected to increase by $1,800 every year with no end in sight.
"In order to keep insurance companies honest, increase competition, provide consumers with more choices, and lower some of these unsustainable costs, the bill will provide consumers with the option of choosing a public health insurance plan. This public option will operate on a level playing field with private insurers, and will have to be self-sufficient, relying on the premiums it collects.
"This health care reform measure also gives families the peace of mind that they will have access to health care when they need it, by preventing the denial of health care coverage due to pre-existing conditions and making it illegal for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick.
"Additionally, seniors will see their prescription drug costs go down. The approximately 6 million seniors, 7,400 of whom live in the Fifth District, who currently fall into the Medicare "donut hole", the gap in which prescription drugs are not covered, will see that gap in coverage completely closed over time.
"While access to care is not a problem that we have in Massachusetts, tens of millions of Americans do not have health care coverage they can afford and that number increases by 14,000 every day. The Affordable Healthcare for America Act takes significant steps towards covering all Americans, while enabling anyone happy with their current plan to keep it, facts which have earned it the endorsement of the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, the AARP, and many other leading health care provider and patient advocacy groups.
"Finally, this bill is fully paid for, not adding a dime to our deficits now or in the future. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will reduce our nation's growing deficit over ten years by $104 billion.
"As with any undertaking of this magnitude, the legislation is not perfect. I am very disappointed that the final bill included language that severely restricts access to reproductive health services for women. By effectively ensuring that plans offered on the health insurance exchange do not offer abortion services, the bill discriminates against low-income women, and goes so far as to prevent those who want to buy a plan that covers abortion services with their own money from making that choice. I will be working with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to change this unreasonable and unwarranted language in conference.
"But, overall, I strongly believe that this bill expands access to health care for nearly all of our citizens, and begins to control the unsustainable cost of care. It is for these reasons that I was proud to support it this evening."