Yesterday, three committees in the House – Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce – came together to release a health reform bill that goes far in fixing American’s broken health care system. The robust bill (America’s Affordable Health Choices Act) guarantees that everyone is covered and it promotes shared responsibility among individuals, employers, and the government. It effectively provides quality and affordable health care for all:
Improved Affordability so that no one is priced out of coverage and care. In a recent poll,
more than half of Americans families said they skipped health care because it was too expensive. America’s Affordable Health Choices Act puts the brakes on this trend by offering sliding scale subsidies (available to families of four earning up to $88,000 this year — 400% of the federal poverty level) and capping out-of-pocket expenses. It also expands Medicaid to 133% of the poverty level (about $24,400 for a family of three in 2009), allowing millions of low-income Americans who are not currently eligible for Medicaid to gain coverage. What’s more, the bill will close the Medicare doughnut hole over time, helping seniors and those with disabilities pay for life-preserving medications.
Choice of Health Plans between your current plan, private plans, and a robust public plan. While many Americans are satisfied with their current health plan and doctor, some are not. The House bill establishes a national health insurance exchange (a marketplace) that would allow people to keep coverage, even when changing jobs, and it would hold down overall costs by reducing administrative overhead. While the proposed exchange is national, states can opt out and form their own state-based exchanges. One of the many plans offered in the exchange will be a strong public health insurance plan to help level the playing field, and to provide real competition for private insurers who often monopolize certain areas.
Fair Insurance Premiums for Everyone. Currently, insurance companies offering coverage to individuals and small businesses are loosely regulated by a patchwork of state regulations; in most states, they can get away with practices that harm consumers’ financial and physical health for their own gain. These practices will no longer be allowed. Under the House bill, insurers cannot discriminate against women or the ill by denying them coverage based on pre-existing conditions (guaranteed issue) or charge higher premiums based on health status or gender (modified community rating).
Value for Your Premium Dollars. In the majority of states, there are no protections in place that ensure consumers, who are buying coverage in the individual market, that their premiums will be used for medical services rather than for insurance company profit, administration, and advertising. In fact, without adequate consumer protections, insurance companies sometimes spend only 60 cents of every premium dollar on actual health care. Health reform will require health insurers to spend a minimum amount of their premium dollars-85% in the House bill-on medical care. If they do not spend a large enough proportion of the premiums collected on medical care, they must issue refunds to consumers.
Security that coverage can’t be lost or taken away. Our system is wrought with uncertainty, especially in these tumultuous economic times. As President Obama said, “The House proposal will begin the process of fixing what’s broken about our health care system, reducing costs for all, building on what works, and covering an estimated 97% of all Americans. And by emphasizing prevention and wellness, it will also help improve the quality of health care for every American.”
The other good news? The bill sponsors have identified sound financing mechanisms: savings in Medicare and Medicaid and a surtax on the wealthiest 1.5 percent of Americans.
America’s Affordable Health Choices Act is something to be proud of. With 6,000 people losing coverage each day, it is time we enact this strong piece of legislation.
A summary of the bill can be found here.
Full text of the bill can be found here.
Julia Eisman: Julia Eisman is the Online Advocacy Coordinator at Families USA, a national nonprofit that works to achieve quality and affordable health care for all. Julia worked to launch, and now manages, StandUpforHealthCare.org, a project of Families USA, where ordinary Americans can gain knowledge and take action around health care reform. She earned her BA from the University of Texas in Austin and her MPA from American University.
This article was originally posted on Stand Up for Health Care on July 15, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.