Tuesday's passage of a comprehensive health insurance reform bill out of the Senate Finance Committee is an important milestone in the historic effort to lower health care costs and provide access to affordable coverage for every American, but the battle is far from over.
It is hard to believe that the fight for universal health care began in earnest more than 60 years ago, and we now stand on the verge of a plan that would cover nearly all Americans. While I am encouraged by the framework coming out of the Finance Committee, the health insurance industry has signaled that it will fight this effort with everything in its arsenal, including a recent study that blatantly misrepresented the cost control measures included in the Senate legislation.
It's now up to us to make sure the health insurance industry doesn't convince legislators to oppose reform — click here to contact your members of congress now.
Not only must the supporters of health insurance reform stand together to beat back these scare tactics, we must continue our work to improve this bill before it reaches President Obama's desk. I believe there are several key measures that will help lower costs, provide more competition and choice and protect the states from having to shoulder an undue burden of the costs.
First, a public insurance option modeled on Medicare should be included in the legislation to increase competition with private insurers, thus lowering premiums and holding them accountable. If anything, this measure would further reduce costs and the deficit over the long term. I applaud Senator Sherrod Brown's leadership in tirelessly organizing support for adding the public option to the menu of health choices for all Americans. Despite these efforts, the public option remains in doubt, and it is up to all of us to continue pushing for this important measure.
If we are serious about controlling costs, we must give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry through a non-partisan Medicare budget-cutting commission. As the biggest consumer of prescription drugs in the world, it is outrageous that we do not allow Medicare to use its leverage to negotiate lower prices for our seniors and save the federal government tens of billions of dollars a year. Congress should demand the ability to negotiate the soaring cost of prescription drugs and adopt cost containment measures recommended by a Medicare commission on an up-or-down vote.
As anxious middle class families evaluate whether health insurance reform will benefit them, it's critical that no health care benefits are taxed to pay for expanding coverage. Many hardworking Ohioans, and Americans around the country are paid smaller salaries in exchange for comprehensive health care benefits. These people should not have to sacrifice a living wage in return for quality health care. They should not be punished for receiving expanded health care benefits. Government should not require people to pay higher taxes for health care because of the community in which they live or because they or their coworkers get sick. For many individuals and families, such a tax would mean an increase in premiums or out-of-pocket expenses and raise their health care costs.
A long-term care option should also be part of the menu of options available to all Americans. Most Americans wrongly believe that such care is already covered by Medicare or private insurance. Hundreds of thousands face impoverishment when they find it is not. No reform can be complete unless it offers every American the right to opt in to a voluntary long-term care insurance program funded by those who participate.
Finally, the current bill would expand Medicaid access to cover more of the nation's working poor. While this may be the most effective way to cover more Americans who currently lack insurance, it is critical that expanding Medicaid not create an unfunded mandate for state governments already facing painful budget deficits due to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
We can't just sit back and expect a perfect bill to emerge — we have to be ready to work for it. It's an easy step to contact your members of congress: use my simple online tool to contact yours today.
I am heartened by the progress made towards health insurance reform that will once and for all give Americans access to quality, affordable health care that cannot be taken away if they lose their job or get sick. But the stakes in this debate are high, and every vote is vital. Rob Portman, the likely Republican Senate nominee in Ohio, has already admitted that his party has no health care plan and exemplifies the GOP's status as the party of "no." No new ideas, no new policy approaches — merely an obstructionist agenda to stand in the way of progress for hardworking Ohioans.
That's why Ohio's next senator must be a progressive champion for the Middle Class who understands that passing health care for all Americans is a moral and economic imperative. I can't wait to join the fight.