How health reform helps Americans

Jul 22, 2009 Issues: Health Care

When Kay Carlson lost her contract job at General Motors in October 2008, her first thought was not about finding a new job. It was about retaining health insurance for her son, a 15-year-old boy with polycystic kidney disease. "I was in a panic," she said at a health care roundtable. "Insurance companies were denying me coverage because of my son's kidney disease. I didn't know what to do."

Kay's story is not unique. Millions of Americans are without health care because they lost their job or cannot afford it. Their friends and neighbors worry that the same can happen to them.

The America's Affordable Health Choices Act, introduced in the House of Representatives this week, will ensure, once and for all, that no mother ever has to worry as Kay did about securing affording health insurance for her family or herself.

The act builds on what works in the current health care system by strengthening employer-provided care, while addressing what is broken. Don't believe the misinformation. No one will be forced to change their plan and everyone will be able to choose their own doctor. But the act will prohibit insurance companies from discriminating in any way based on pre-existing conditions, either by denying insurance, charging more, or limiting care.

For individuals who either aren't currently covered, or want to enroll in a new health care plan, it establishes a health care exchange where consumers can select from a menu of affordable, quality health care options: either a new public health insurance option or a plan offered by private insurers. This new marketplace will create competition that can lead to better care for every American and begin the critical task of reducing health care costs. Importantly, patients will have more control in choosing health care that best suits their needs.

No family will ever have to worry about going bankrupt due to medical costs because out-of-pocket expenses will be capped in every insurance plan. Additionally the bill addresses the Medicare "doughnut hole," which forces seniors to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for prescription drugs.

Under this plan, Americans of all ages, from young children to retirees, will have access to better quality of care because of a new focus on prevention and streamlined systems. The bill requires all insurance plans to offer preventive services, such as cancer screening, free of charge. It will institute payment reforms so patients receive one bill, rather than a dozen, when they leave the hospital.

And it will, for the first time, begin paying primary care physicians for coordinating a patient's care with specialists, communicating with patients via phone or email when these methods are more appropriate than a visit, and being available on nights and weekends so people don't have to resort to an emergency care room when it isn't necessary.

We all know that Michigan has been hit especially hard by the current economic crisis. The latest figures from the Census Bureau show that 11 percent of those living in Michigan are uninsured. During its height, from December 2008 to January 2009, at least 620 Michigan residents lost their health insurance each day.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the America's Affordable Health Choices Act will insure 97 percent of Americans. We are committed to working on provisions to ensure health care reform will pay for itself and not add to the federal deficit. Expansion of coverage and improved health benefits will be paid for through cost savings in the current system, necessary future structural reforms, and a surtax on the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.

All Americans deserve the peace of mind of knowing their health care plans are portable, stable and secure. All Americans need health care that focuses on prevention and wellness. Well-coordinated care should be the norm, rather than the exception.

Congress must act now to pass the America's Affordable Health Choices Act.

Kay, her son, and all Americans will be better off for it.