Friday, November 6, 2009

Hurry! Health Care Is In Your Hands!

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NOW Action Alert
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November 06, 2009
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Action Needed
Background
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Hurry! Health Care Is In Your Hands!
Take Action NOW: Urge your house member to support single-payer and strengthen the public insurance option in health care reform legislation.
After taking action, please support our work!
Action Needed:
The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote as early as this Saturday, Nov. 7, on the most important piece of health care legislation in more than four decades. While the Affordable Health Care for America Act, (H.R. 3962) is far from NOW's ideal health care reform bill, it is a necessary step towards repairing our failing, profit-driven health care system. We need you to act now by sending a message to your representative urging their support of the Weiner amendment for a national single-payer health insurance plan; failing that, members should support a stronger public insurance plan and, then finally to vote for adoption of H.R. 3962.
You can use our pre-formatted messages and send yours today as the House begins debate on this historic legislation. NOW would like to see H.R. 3962 adopted and is committed to improving those parts of reform which we believe need improvement, including those related to women's reproductive health care. But this bill is a strong step in the right direction!
Background:
In announcing the introduction of H.R. 3962 on Oct. 29, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that this compromise legislation would cover an additional 35 million persons, offering coverage to 96 percent of the public. The cost of the bill is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) at $1.055 trillion over ten years and is financed by targeted taxes, savings under Medicare and other adjustments. House leaders said that the bill, if signed into law, would reduce future federal deficits by about $104 billion over the next ten years and would not add to the federal deficit.
IMPORTANT REFORMS -- H.R. 3962 contains many important reforms of the abusive, profit-driven private insurance industry, covers a majority of persons currently without health insurance, provides subsidies for low- and some moderate-income individuals and families to cover insurance costs, assures that abortion services are covered in at least one insurance plan in each Health Exchange, has the essentials of a public health plan and provides many other needed repairs to our failing health care system.
NOW is committed to continuing work on a better public health insurance plan and, eventually, to seeing states adopt the much more affordable and comprehensive single-payer health care plans. At some near future date, we want to see women's reproductive health care fully covered -- just like any other part of basic health care.
SINGLE-PAYER AMENDMENT -- An amendment by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), adopted in committee, that would have allowed states to adopt their own single-payer plans was stripped out of H.R. 3962 under pressure from conservatives and the insurance industry. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) will offer an amendment to establish a national single-payer health care plan and other amendments that would improve the public plan may be offered (as of press time, we are not sure which amendments will be allowed to go forward). The bill does contain a public health insurance plan, as Democratic leaders pledged it would, but instead of specifying reimbursement rates for doctors, hospitals and other providers, it would have the government negotiate rates with providers -- just like private insurers do. This, progressive groups note, weakens a core mechanism to bring spiraling health care costs under control.
MAJOR CHANGES -- The House bill requires everyone to buy health insurance, requires large employers to provide their workers with health benefits, expands Medicaid so that persons making less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,245 for an individual and $33,075 for a family of four) are eligible for the state-federal insurance program, establishes Health Exchanges where individuals and families could shop for the best plan private or public, assures that at least one health insurance plan in each Exchange offer abortion coverage, adopts new taxes to finance reform, and has many other important features. Containing many important reforms of the private insurance market, H.R. 3962 would prohibit companies from denying coverage to sick people (pre-existing conditions), caps out-of-pocket expenses, prohibit limitations on annual and lifetime health care costs that could be reimbursed and prohibits gender rating in private insurance plans, among many other important improvements. (See summaries linked below.)
The House bill would impose an income surtax on individuals earning more than $500,000 and couples earning more than $1 million. Savings from cutting waste and fraud in Medicare, taxes on medical devices, contributions from employers who choose not to cover employees and other tax code adjustments are calculated to offset costs under this plan.
BENEFITS TO WOMEN -- Positive features that would benefit women are: a prohibition on gender-rating -- the practice of charging women more than men for the same coverage in the individual insurance market. Insurers would now be required to cover maternity services as part of an essential benefits package and out-of-pocket payments would be limited for certain preventive care services, among other benefits. The House bill would ban insurance companies from denying coverage in the individual market based on a woman's history as a domestic violence survivor, which would go into effect as soon as the bill is signed into law (enacted as of January 1, 2010).
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE -- Abortion would be prohibited from being included in a list of Minimum Benefits Coverage, a listing that will be determined by an appointed committee of experts and consumers at some future date. A compromise measure (the Capps Amendment) seen as necessary to get the larger bill out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee states that at least one of the private insurance options in every premium rating level must include abortion coverage beyond rape, life or incest, and at least one of the private plans must exclude abortion rape, life or incest in the newly established insurance exchanges. Further, the Capps Amendment ensures that in each region of the country, there is at least one plan in the Health Exchange that offers abortion services, but also one plan in the Health Exchange that does not offer abortion coverage. State laws regarding abortion coverage, funding and referrals are untouched. The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion services except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the woman's life, still stands.
NEW ABORTION RESTRICTIONS -- Last minute restrictions adopted in the rule required to bring the House health care reform bill to the floor will explicitly prohibit federal funding for abortion services, guarantee patient access to insurance plans that do not cover abortions and require federal health officials to hire private contractors to handle payments to abortion providers. These restrictions represent a compromise to allow the full bill to go forward and were reached after days of negotiation with conservative abortion rights opponents in both parties, with heavy involvement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Members from the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus were not pleased with the language but would not oppose it. Support from a few additional anti-abortion rights House members for the overall bill should now be enough to reach the magic number of 218 votes.
SUPPORT H.R. 3962 -- Despite these harsh restrictions on the coverage of abortion services, NOW believes that the House bill should be passed because of the many improvements that are proposed to expand health care coverage and benefits for women. As noted, H.R. 3962 is far from our ideal of health care reform, but it is a strong step in the right direction.
More Information
A four page summary of H.R. 3962, Committee on Education and Labor (PDF)
A detailed summary of H.R. 3962, Committee on Education and Labor (PDF)


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