Congress took two big steps closer to health reform in the last two days.Â Tuesday, the House of Representatives released a health care reform bill which is the result of a joint effort between three committees: Energy & Commerce, Ways & Means, and Education and Labor. Then on Wednesday, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee (HELP) in the Senate introduced its bill for health reform.
The House bill is particularly strong. It would:
- Prohibit insurance companies from denying you coverage for an illness you had in the past (called “pre-existing conditions”)
- Prohibit the insurance companies from refusing to sell you a plan
- Prohibit the insurance companies from charging you or your employer more for coverage on the basis of gender, health status, or type of work, etc. It would allow insurers to set premiums differently based on age, but it does put a cap on this differential
- Require insurers to use 85% of the premiums they collect on actual medical costs and claims, rather than profits and capital improvements
- Create a standard benefit package so everyone will have access to basic preventative care. It also puts a cap on out-of-pocket costs that can be charged to a family
- Require cost-containment and system efficiencies to stop the upward spiral of health costs
- Give everyone a choice of their insurance plan — keep your private coverage, choose a new private plan, or choose the public health insurance plan that will be created.Â The public health insurance plan would be on a level-playing field with private insurers. It would have to abide by all the private market rules and would have to be self-sustaining through the premiums it charges.
- Ensure affordable coverage and shared responsibility between individuals, employers, and the government. Individuals will be required to purchase coverage. Employers will be required to contribute to their employee’s health coverage. The government will provide subsidies on a sliding fee scale to help low and moderate income families purchase coverage.
- Strengthen Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by expanding eligibility to provide critical health care access to our most vulnerable families.
- Includes responsible ways to pay for reform through savings and increased revenue
The House bill, H.R. 3200, reflects the common sense reforms that many groups have agreed on for a long time. It is focused on the consumer, not on protecting the status quo. A good summary of the bill along with individual fact sheets on specific issues can be found on the House Energy & Commerce Committee website.
As the rhetoric against health care reform resorts more and more to tired old scare tactics, it is important to remember that there is a great deal of consensus on much of what needs to be done. So many earnest policymakers, advocates, experts, and citizens have been working seriously on reform for over a year (and for years before that). Even more important, we can’t lose sight of how urgently reform is needed. A new report by Families USA released yesterday brings that into relief. If we do nothing, nearly 34,000 Nebraskans will have lost health insurance coverage between January 2008 and December 2010. We must not buy into the calls for delay. Reform can’t wait.