Finish The Job – The Need For Reform Remains Unchanged

(originally posted at New Nebraska Network)

This past week has been full of speculation about the future of health care reform which has been frustrating for health care reform advocates.  Many of us have worked tirelessly this past year to make comprehensive health care reform a reality, coming further than any previous generation.  The recent shift in the Senate should not and does not mean the end of reform.

The status of health care in our country is exactly the same today as it was before the Massachusetts election.  Our broken health care system remains unaffordable and unsustainable for millions of Americans.  And the fierce need for comprehensive health reform remains unchanged.

Today, there are still more than 220,000 Nebraskans – over 45,000 of which are children – who remain uninsured.  The many Nebraskans who have insurance continue to face soaring premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs.  Too many Nebraskans pay their annual premiums and still have to fight for the coverage they paid for.  Too many face denials of coverage altogether, or risk medical bankruptcy.  Those who have lost their jobs, and thus their employer provided coverage, struggle to find affordable insurance, particularly those with pre-existing health conditions.

These are not just statistics or generalizations.  This past year, we’ve met so many Nebraskans who have shared with us their stories and exemplified why our leaders cannot hesitate or balk at enacting comprehensive reform.

Coverage is truly unaffordable for even those who are lucky enough to have it. Jeanne, an Omaha native, despite having employer provided insurance, can barely afford the combined costs of her monthly diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol medications and her co-pays for regular health screenings.  The effects of pre-existing condition denials are real.  Darwin, a Vietnam veteran, cannot retire or move jobs because he must maintain his private health insurance to cover his wife who cannot qualify for insurance in the private market because she has diabetes.

And the effects on our small businesses are real.  We hear from many people like Todd, a self-employed auto mechanic, whose premiums have more than doubled since he first purchased his policy.  Dennis, another small business owner, knows personally that our health system fails both small business owners and families.  As a business owner, he can’t afford to provide his part-time or full-time employees health coverage.  With his family policy, Dennis’s deductible more than doubled with his previous insurer.  After he switched insurers he endured the cruel act of having his insurer pre-approve his wife’s $15,000 surgery only to have that same insurer deny coverage after the surgery was done.  His insurer suddenly claimed she had a “pre-existing condition.”

These are only a few of the stories we’ve heard.  It has been remarkable to see how everyone is touched by the flaws and huge gaps in our system.  Everyone seems to have a health care story – and not a good one.

This system is not sustainable.  We cannot ignore these harsh realities of today’s health care system or the price we will pay if our leaders fail to enact reform.  Without reform, these trends will continue.  That is guaranteed.

The reform bills passed by the House and Senate will address so many of the most basic problems and injustices of our current system.  Millions more would have access to affordable coverage.  Many families in Nebraska would have access to premium tax credits.  Small businesses would have tax credits to help them provide coverage for their employees.  Insurers would no longer be allowed to charge widely different premiums for the same benefits based on your health status or just because you are a woman.

These basic steps towards a more fair and humane health care system are critical.  Massachusetts has shown that health reform works, with 98% of people covered and insurers not allowed to deny people based on pre-existing conditions. It’s time for the rest of the country to have the same access to good, affordable care.

It’s the right decision morally.  It’s the right decision economically.  It is the right decision for the health and prosperity of our state and our country.  Congress should not back away from this opportunity.  Time will show that those who voted for health care reform and moved this country forward were on the right side of history.

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