Health care reform has become perhaps the dominant public policy issue in conversations in Congress and throughout the country. There is widespread acknowledgment that America's health care system is in dire need of reform.
I support comprehensive, affordable, quality health care for all Americans.
We have well-trained, dedicated doctors and nurses and the most advanced medical technology. However, our nation spends significantly more money on health care than other nations but our health outcomes lag behind many others.
While most Americans are covered by health insurance, almost 47 million Americans are uninsured. Those fortunate enough to have coverage face skyrocketing premiums and higher co-payments and deductibles. In fact, health care costs rise much faster than wages: premiums have more than doubled over the last decade.
In addition, those who currently have insurance are at risk of losing it if they lose or change their jobs, and increasingly Americans are anxious about losing coverage and not being able to afford it.
A September 2009 report from the Treasury Department found that about half of all Americans under 65 will in fact lose their health coverage at some point over the next ten years. The report also found that Americans under 21 have more than a 50 percent chance of going uninsured at some point in that time. And more than one-third of Americans will go without coverage for longer than one year.
Health care costs are the leading cause of personal bankruptcies in America. Even families with insurance find that deductibles are more than they can afford or that their insurer limits the amount it will pay. Many people have to fight with their insurance provider to get reimbursed for procedures their doctors determined are medically necessary. Some insurers deny more than 30 percent of claims. So customers pay more and more every year only to be denied coverage for the care they need. In addition, those with insurance pay a hidden "tax," averaging more than $1000 for a typical family, in the form of higher premiums to compensate for care provided to the uninsured.
One reason why many Americans do not have accessible, affordable health care is the lack of true competition among insurance companies. In 94 percent of metropolitan areas, health insurance companies face limited competition. In some areas, a single insurer controls more than 70 percent of the market. This lack of competition in the health insurance market limits consumer choices and drives up health care costs for American families and businesses.
After much study, debate and hard work and after numerous hearings, conversations and town hall meetings all over the country, President Obama and Democrats in Congress have come up with health care reform legislation that benefits those who are currently covered and those who are uninsured.
We have a credible health care reform plan that lowers costs, maintains quality, covers all Americans, holds insurance companies accountable, and brings more security and stability to American families and businesses.
I believe the best way to accomplish these goals is through a "public option", a health insurance plan that, like Medicare, is government run and not driven by profits like private insurance. The public option will compete with the private insurance companies, helping drive down costs and improve quality and customer service. It is important to keep in mind that the public option is voluntary; nobody can force you to choose it if you prefer a private insurance company.
Unfortunately, Republicans have rejected the President's repeated offers to come to the table and negotiate in good faith. They are determined to play politics instead of helping the people they serve. However, the time for bickering, myths, and flat out lies by those who want to block reform is over.
Here are some of the elements of the reform plan that President Obama and I support:
* Insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage because of a preexisting condition, dropping or watering down coverage when you get sick, or arbitrarily capping the amount of coverage you can receive in year or lifetime.
* Insurers will also have to abide by yearly limits on out-of-pocket expenses and fully cover -- with no extra charge -- routine checkups and preventative care, like mammograms and colonoscopies.
* For Americans without insurance, we will create a new insurance exchange where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices, comparing and choosing among various plans.
* As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees, including Members of Congress, have access to affordable insurance. It's time to give every American the same opportunity.