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Consumers Can't Wait Any Longer for Health Reform

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More than 70 years ago, Consumers Union, the independent, nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Reports, called for affordable, reliable health care for all Americans.

Today, after decades of failed proposals, broken promises, and political rancor, our nation is the closest it has ever been to answering that call.

Reform proposals have passed both chambers of Congress by a majority vote; now they effectively await final passage. Reform will make sure you can get reliable, affordable health coverage if you're sick, lose your job, or hit a rough financial patch. It will provide much-needed oversight of the insurance industry, spur competition, and change the way insurance companies do business.

A lot of people, especially those who already have good insurance, are unsure how the agreed-upon proposals in Congress would benefit them. The package of reform proposals isn't perfect. It won't solve all the problems in our nation's broken health care system. But the reforms under consideration would go a long way toward achieving the goal of affordable, reliable health care for all Americans. So let me identify the key benefits consumers would get from health-reform legislation passed to date:

  • No company could deny you health insurance for a pre-existing condition, or drop your coverage if you get sick.
  • Insurance companies wouldn't be able to cap the amount of care you may need for a serious illness, or stop paying your claims and leave you with devastating medical bills.
  • All your recommended preventive care would be completely covered without any deductibles - colonoscopies, mammograms, etc.
  • If you buy on your own, you would get the same choice of coverage that members of Congress get.
  • If you have decent coverage now through your job, you keep it. But if your employer drops your health insurance, or makes you pay more than 8 percent of your income on your premium, you could get help to buy your own policy in an insurance "shopping mall," or "exchange."
  • If you hit a rough financial patch-a layoff or dramatic drop in your income-you could get help to buy your own policy through tax credits. The less money you have coming in, the cheaper the policy.
  • Kids could stay on their parents' policies until they turned 26.
  • Small businesses would get tax credits for up to 50 percent of their cost of providing coverage to their workers.

Seniors in Medicare will get all their preventive care covered at 100 percent; proposals would cover more prescription drug costs by shrinking the infamous ''doughnut hole'' and shore up the financial stability of the program.

It's also vital that we get control of spiraling health costs. Over the past 10 years, most families' health insurance bills have more than doubled -- and if nothing is done to rein in costs, your premiums will double again in another 10 years. To address this there are a host of new efforts designed to improve health care quality, improve care coordination, and provide incentives for hospitals to reduce health care associated infections. There are new incentives for hospitals and doctors to come together to form organizations that can offer "soup to nuts" integrated care. In time, these efforts to improve health-care quality should also lower the underlying cost of health care.

We have to make sure that we can control what we pay, how we pay it, and what we get for it. Reform would hold insurance companies accountable when it comes to what they charge consumers for coverage, and how they do business:

  • Insurers would have to spend 85 percent of your premium dollar on your health care (80 percent if you buy your policy on your own or are in a small group) or they would have to refund you the difference. That means more of what you pay would actually go for medical care, not to CEO salaries and overhead.
  • Insurance companies would have to describe their policies in plain language, clearly listing what they charge, and what they'll cover, so you can easily comparison shop on the Internet.
  • And they would have to be upfront about how they'll treat you if there's a dispute, including clearly explaining your rights.
These and other numerous benefits are needed if Americans are to finally have some peace of mind about their health care. After a year of open and public debate, and numerous hearings, bills, and votes, the time to give Americans better, fairer, and more affordable health care is now.

Consumers simply can't wait another 70 years.

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