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Why We Can't Afford to Fail: A Blue Dog for Reform

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A woman from Bucks County recently lost her job as a copy editor, and the small business her husband works for is unable to afford coverage for their employees. She tried shopping around on her own for a plan but was turned down by insurance companies because of a pre-existing condition she recently discovered: she is pregnant.

Instead of celebrating the news, she and her husband are terrified about how they will afford all of her pre-natal and maternity care bills without any health care coverage. I support health insurance reform because, in a great nation like ours, this should never happen.

Over the past eight months, I've spoken and met with thousands of constituents - doctors, patients, small business owners, folks with insurance and those without - about this bill. After hearing their thoughts and after careful consideration of the bill, I am proud to support this historic and crucial piece of legislation.

First, this bill prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition. What does this mean? If your job offers insurance, you can get coverage regardless of your health status. But if you lose your job, aren't offered coverage through work, or are unemployed and need to buy your own insurance, you can be denied coverage because you're pregnant or have high blood pressure, cancer, or diabetes. An insurer can charge higher rates because of those conditions, or for a host of other reasons, including being female or a victim of domestic violence. Reform would put a stop to this.

Many folks who have insurance report that they are happy with it, but too often that coverage is taken away just when it is needed most. Today, an insurer can look for any excuse to kick you off your plan if you become "too expensive." For example, an insurer could comb through your records, find a bout of acne that you forgot to report, and terminate your plan. Reform eliminates this practice, known as rescission, giving Americans security knowing their coverage cannot be taken away.

What about folks on Medicare? AARP has endorsed the bill, stating that after careful consideration, they are confident that this bill expands and protects benefits provided for seniors and retirees.

Opponents of reform have aimed their worst scare tactics at seniors, claiming that the bill includes everything from death panels to euthanasia. In fact, reform provides the help that Medicare needs to continue providing health care for seniors today and for generations to come. We will finally close the Medicare "donut hole" that leaves seniors paying thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for prescription drugs. Seniors will have access to lower cost drugs, too, as the government will be allowed to negotiate with manufacturers to get better deals on medications. And, seniors will have free preventive care services to help them stay healthy and active.

Finally, as a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs, I believe this is an opportunity our nation cannot afford to miss. Everyone has heard the statistics on our health care spending, but I believe a few bear repeating. The American people and their government spend a staggering amount of money on health care - over 17% of our country's entire economic output. Small businesses have seen their health care costs rise 130% in the last decade, cutting into profits and stifling their ability to grow and hire new workers. And premiums for American families have more than doubled in that time, rising four times faster than wages.

This bill lowers health insurance costs for families, individuals, and small businesses and puts our spending on a fiscally sustainable path. As the MIT economist Jonathan Gruber pointed out, premiums will be lower for families and individuals, not just for those who qualify for federal subsidies, but even for those who do not. According to Mr. Gruber, a family making $93,000 would make too much to qualify for financial assistance, but their premiums would still be $1260 - or 12% - less than under current law.

Further, the bill meets a fundamental requirement I stated at the beginning of this debate: that the bill does not add a dime to our federal deficit. In fact, H.R. 3962 actually goes beyond deficit-neutrality, reducing the deficit by $129 billion. Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, which will see millions of new paying customers, have committed to contribute hundreds of billions in savings toward the cost of reform. And a large portion of the bill is paid for with a surcharge on income over one million dollars, a provision which would impact 1/3 of one percent of households.

It has been 64 years since President Truman declared before Congress that "[m]illions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health...[t]he time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection." It has been 16 years since Congress' last attempt to attain those goals. Since then, over 700,000 people have died because they lacked access to affordable health care coverage. Every day, 500 Pennsylvanians - and 14,000 people across America - lose their health insurance. We simply cannot afford to fail again.

For these reasons, I stand with the AARP, the American Medical Association, and the American Nurses Association in strong support of this crucial, fiscally responsible and long-overdue legislation.