HUNTER AFFIRMS OPPOSITION TO PUBLIC OPTION; OTHERS OBJECT TO DROPPING AMENDMENT TO LET STATES PASS STRONGER HEALTHCARE REFORMS
By Miriam Raftery
November 5, 2009 – The Democratic-sponsored healthcare measure currently before Congress got a booster shot today with the endorsement of two major groups, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
The American Medical Association (AMA) today announced support for concurrent passage of H.R. 3962 and H.R. 3961, U.S. House of Representatives health system reform bills.
“The time to make health system reform a reality is now,” said J. James Rohack, AMA president. "These two bills were introduced together, and they need to be passed together. Both are essential to achieving meaningful health system reform this year."
H.R. 3962, The Affordable Health Care for America Act, “goes a long way toward expanding access to high-quality affordable health coverage for all Americans, and it would make the system better for patients and physicians,” Dr. Rohack said. "This is not the last step but the next step toward health system reform. We will remain actively engaged with patients, physicians, Congress and the administration to ensure that the final bill results in marked improvements to our health system."
AMA also called on Congress to pass the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 3961) to permanently repeal the “broken physician payment formula” and preserve access to care for seniors, baby boomers and military families.
"Ensuring the security and stability of Medicare must serve as the foundation for any serious health system reform this year," Dr. Rohack said. “In less than 60 days, Medicare physician payments are scheduled to be cut by 21 percent, with more cuts in years to come. According to a recent AARP poll, nearly 90 percent of people age 50 and older are concerned that the current Medicare physician payment formula threatens their access to care.” He added, “Congress created the Medicare physician payment system, and Congress needs to fix this problem once and for all to fulfill its obligation to seniors, baby boomers and military families”
AARP Chief Executive A. Barry Rand said the organization supports the House bill over other proposals because the measure does more to lower drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries, strengthen Medicare and bar insurance companies from denying people coverage because of their health or age. The bill also would lower premiums for Americans ages 50 to 64 who have to buy insurance in the private market and would create a voluntary long-term care insurance program.
"Under the House plan... insurance companies will not be able to reject you or charge you an outrageous premium because you got sick once, you may get sick again, you lost your job, you're over 50 years old or because your employer dropped your coverage," Rand said at the briefing. "Millions of Americans will start to regain control over their lives."
Bonnie Cramer, chair of AARP’s volunteer advisory board, said one key factor in the organization’s decision to support the House bill was that it won’t add to the national deficit. “Our members are worried about financial security for their children and grandchildren,” she said.
The AARP accused the health insurance industry of spending millions in recent months to influence older Americans, “sometimes generating misinformation about how health care reform would affect Medicare.”
Obama told reporters at the White House today that he welcomed AARP’s endorsement of the health care reform. He urged Congress to “ listen to AARP “and other supporters and “ and pass this reform for hundreds of millions of Americans.”
AARP’s press release noted that many Republican lawmakers—along with Blue Cross Blue Shield and other health insurance companies--0ppose the House bill, in large part because it includes a public option, a government-run insurance plan that could compete with private insurers.
The House legislation would provide health insurance to almost all Americans with a price tag of about $894 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And the CBO estimates the bill would reduce the federal deficit by $104 billion over 10 years.
The measure would be paid for by a tax on the wealthy—individuals making $500,000 a year and couples with joint tax returns of $1 million, as well as by changes to Medicare and Medicaid worth billions in savings over 10 years, according to the CBO.
“AARP has been fighting for more affordable health care, better health care, for decades,” says John Rother, the group’s executive vice president of policy and strategy. Now, he says, “we have a real chance to achieve that.”
Rother says the bill will not only lower costs for most Americans but also “strengthen Medicare benefits and improve the financial status of the Medicare trust fund.”
For Medicare enrollees, Rother says, the House bill would “completely close the Medicare doughnut hole,” make some preventive services free and improve access to doctors by increasing pay for primary care physicians.
For people under 65, the bill would guarantee affordable health insurance choices, prohibit insurance exclusions based on preexisting conditions, limit insurance costs for older Americans and put a cap on out-of-pocket health insurance expenses, “so that you would know that you weren’t going to be bankrupted by health care costs,” Rother says.
(For a full list of ways the measure would benefit older Americans, see http://bulletin.aarp.org/yourhealth/policy/articles/health_care_reform7.3.html_/).
Joseph Stubbs, M.D., president of the American College of Physicians, says his group supports the bill because it expands affordable health care coverage for all Americans. He predicts medication costs will go down and adds that the proposed legislation will not affect patient choice, AARP reports.
An analysis of the House bill from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a private research group in Washington, found the legislation would “both strengthen Medicare’s financial footing” and benefit uninsured adults ages 55 to 64.
Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), meanwhile, has issued a statement reinforcing his continuing opposition to a public option.
The plan unveiled today by House Democrats represents more of the same," said Hunter, (photo, left) who represents most of East County. "Despite the need for responsible health care reform, this proposal once again amounts to nothing more than a massive government takeover of our health care system.” Hunter said the measure does not reduce costs or meaningfully address challenges facing small businesses and working families. He faulted the House Education and Labor Committee for failing to adopt an amendment he authored to provide small businesses with a hardship exemption contingent on approval by the Secretary of Labor. Instead, the Committee agreed to a study on whether businesses are adversely impacted by government mandates under the bill.
"Looking forward, I will vote against any legislation, regardless of what form it takes, that includes a public option or impedes the type of competition that is needed to lower costs and improve access to care,” Hunter affirmed. He predicted that the measure, if approved, would “destroy the basic foundation of our health care system, eliminate jobs and drive up already record debt levels.”
Other San Diegans, meanwhile, are voicing concern that an amendment has been stripped from the bill that would have allowed states to enact single-payer healthcare plans even if the federal government enacts a public option, not single-payer. A single-payer system would virtually eliminate private health insurance, while a public option would allow a federal plan to compete against private insurers.
"They are trying to make it a “bipartisan” bill, which is a joke," said Sylvia Hampton, spokeperson with Mobilization for Healthare for All in San Diego (photo, left).
California’s Legislature twice passed a single-payer bill that would have provided healthcare, dental, vision and mental healthcare to every man, woman and child in California. Both bills were vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. While issues over how to pay for such a system remain, iIf a Democratic governor is elected next year, the prospect that Californians could have single-payer healthcare for all could be very real – provided Congress restores the amendment sponsored by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, has thus far declined pleas to restore the amendment. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill this weekend.
...follow the money...
The reason AARP supports the bill is because the bill cuts funding for the Medicare Advantage program. The Medicare Advantage program is a direct competitor of AARP’s Medigap Insurance sales. AARP stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars through increased Medigap insurance sales if this bill passes.
follow the money….