Americans correctly believe that the most critical issue facing our nation is job creation. You would think the Republican-run House of Representatives, in its first major policy vote of the 112th Congress, would be focused on putting Americans to work. Instead, House Republicans have decided their number one priority is repealing the Patient's Bill of Rights, legislation that is creating 250,000 to 400,000 jobs a year.
The Republican repeal would return America to the dark days when insurance companies told patients and doctors what treatments to pursue, a time when insurers routinely discriminated against Americans to maximize their profits.
When Democrats in Congress passed health care reform - the Patient's Bill of Rights - last year, we put a stop to the worst abuses of the insurance industry. We told the insurance companies they can no longer drop coverage for women who become pregnant or get cancer. We told the insurance companies they can no longer deny care to children with pre-existing conditions, and by 2014, no American will be turned away from insurance because they have the misfortune of falling ill. We told the insurance companies they must allow young people under the age of 26 to be covered under their parents' plan. We've replaced the Insurance Industry's Right to Discriminate with the Patient's Bill of Rights.
I've known women denied coverage after a pregnancy, cancer victims kicked off their insurance after their diagnoses, and parents terrified to seek better employment out of fear that losing their employer-provided coverage would put their child with asthma in danger. Many of my proudest moments as a public servant have been spent fighting these insurance companies on behalf of California consumers, particularly as California's Insurance Commissioner.
Today, if you are in the market for new insurance, because of the Patient's Bill of Rights, you are now protected by the strongest consumer protections that have ever existed in America - and the system is now improving with every passing year.
Republicans in the House tell us this debate isn't just about 'repeal'. They say they want to 'repeal and replace' health care reform, yet they've offered no serious alternatives. During the years they controlled Congress and the White House from 2000-2006, Republicans offered no solutions to the health care crisis. For years they told us they'd get around to fixing health care later. Later is now, and we still see no real solutions from their side of the aisle.
The Patient's Bill of Rights has already lowered the prescription drug costs of seniors, and in less than a decade, we're completely closing the dreaded Medicare Part D prescription drug 'donut hole'. One in every five seniors is in the donut hole. What is the Republican solution?
The Patient's Bill of Rights ends annual and lifetime limits on coverage. This doesn't much matter for a Member of Congress with gold plated coverage, but if you're struggling to make ends meet at a low paying service sector job - say at McDonald's - knowing that your insurer can't cut you off once your medical expenses exceed $2,000 can bring a Super Sized sense of relief. What is the Republican solution?
Indeed, by 2014, every American will have access to the same coverage that a Member of Congress already enjoys. We're able to do all of this while simultaneously lowering the deficit by $230 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. How does it make sense to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit while denying you access to vital consumer protections?
At the end of the day, House Republicans had their vote to repeal the Patient's Bill of Rights, but we all know that neither the Senate nor the President have any intention of repealing health care reform. We've had our debate on 'repeal and replace'. Let's move on to the health care discussion that really matters: how best to 'implement and improve' the tough consumer protections found in the Patient's Bill of Rights.
Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek, CA) served as California's Insurance Commissioner for eight years. In the early 1990s, he authored health care legislation in California that would have insured almost every Californian. The legislation was a key inspiration to President Clinton's health care framework.
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