July 2, 2009

Health Reform That Works for Every American

This morning, millions of people all over this country woke up hoping today isn’t the day they get sick. Millions of Americans went to work wondering whether today would be the last day they get paid in a while. And millions sat up late last night at the kitchen table, to try to balance the family budget as health care bills piled higher and higher.

Access to secure, affordable health care is one of the brightest lines dividing our country. When the system works, it’s at worst inconvenient. When it doesn’t – and too often, it doesn’t – it can leave families, businesses, whole communities devastated.

There has to be a better way. We have to do better than 47 million uninsured, and millions more teetering on the brink. We have to do better than 100,000 people dying each year from avoidable medical errors. America can do better than this.

That’s why for the past several weeks, Senate Democrats have worked hard to craft a sensible, comprehensive health care reform that will begin to reduce costs for families, businesses, and our government; protect people’s choice of doctors, hospitals and insurance plans; and offer affordable, high-quality health care for every American.

Our reform upholds President Obama’s promise: if you like the health care you have, you can keep it. But for the many Americans who want different choices – or don’t have health insurance at all – we also offer a new, public health insurance option. The Community Health Insurance Option will be a national plan, administered by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and available in every state and territory. It will offer benefits that are as good as those available through private insurance plans – or better. The Secretary will negotiate provider payment rates to encourage doctors and hospitals to participate, and individuals who need financial help purchasing coverage will receive it. Local advisory councils will assure the plan receives community input.

Overwhelmingly, Americans agree that healthy competition and a broad range of choices will help keep costs down and insurance plans honest. Our Community Health Insurance Option will be a clear, affordable alternative to for-profit insurance companies.

Your health insurer should be your advocate – not your adversary. The Community Health Insurance Option will invest in prevention, so that when you’re healthy you stay that way. It will invest in care management and coordination, when you have a chronic condition. And it will fight for you, not with you, to get you get the best possible care with the least possible hassle.

Some people will try to scare you into thinking that having a public option will drive all private health insurers out of the market. But we all know the truth: the only place the public option will drive private health insurers is back onto the straight and narrow. Your health insurer should never deny you coverage because you’ve had a heart condition. Your insurer should never carve out your diabetes from your coverage. Your insurer should never deny payment for the MRI they didn’t pre-authorize because in the haze of your breast cancer diagnosis, you hadn’t read the fine print.

They’ll also try to scare you into thinking that our plan will put the government between you and your doctor, and ration your care. The truth is just the opposite. Private insurance rations care by ability to pay – and puts insurance company bureaucrats between you and your doctor. Our plan rejects this failed system – because every American deserves the very best care, no matter what.

The HELP Committee’s plan is the right path for our country as we work to reform our health care system – and we look forward to the day when it’s available to millions of Americans desperately in need of comprehensive, low-cost, high-quality coverage. This should have happened long ago.

The writers are Democratic U.S. Senators representing Ohio and Rhode Island, respectively. They are members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

By: Sheldon Whitehouse and Sherrod Brown