Dear Mr. Kiester:
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about health care reform. I appreciate hearing from you.
In adopting reforms to the system of providing health care in the United States, Congress and the President should take heed of the adage "First, do no harm". Many Americans, particularly the 160 million who benefit from employer provided health insurance are happy with their coverage, their chosen doctor and the coverage provided under their plan.
I believe that reform should not be paid for by taxing the benefits of those already covered. They should not force anyone to change plans or providers. Finally, expanded coverageto the uninsured should not add to the ballooning federal deficit.
That said there are problems with our existing system. I've talked with small business owners who have seen their insurance renewals denied because one employee became sick or was injured. Others have complained about sustained policy price increases or exclusions of existing medical problems. These types of complaints point towards the insurance reform I have been pushing for 20 years; to have the insurance industry play by the same rules as other industries in America. Insurance companies and Major League Baseball are the only two industries exempt from anti-trust laws. That means insurance companies can legally collude to raise prices and exclude individuals from coverage. I have introduced legislation, H.R. 1583, to repeal this exemption. The Consumer Federation of American estimates that repealing the anti-trust exemption could help lower healthcare premiums by 10 percent.
The plan being considered in the House would focus on a few key factors. First and most importantly, it would make sure that every American has comprehensive health insurance that they know they cannot lose even if they lose their job or get sick. It would stop insurance companies from denying coverage to people based on preexisting condition. It would guarantee coverage to all Americans with a minimum package of benefits. For the millions of people who have insurance through their employer nothing will change. For Individuals and small businesses that do not have or cannot afford to provide insurance, they would be able to get affordable insurance by choosing from a "health insurance exchange". This exchange would give them a wide array of insurance plans to choose from, including, if they so choose, a public option. They can choose the plan and level of benefits they want. If they want to pay extra for a premium plan, they can. If they want just the basic package, they can choose that as well. The idea of an exchange is to pool risk, meaning the premiums paid for the plans in the exchange are put into one big pot which will lower premiums for everyone. Furthermore, there would be limited subsidies for lower income families and individuals to make sure everyone can afford coverage.
The insurance industry wants it both ways. They complain about the prospect of a public plan option as "unfair competition" while at the same time they are fighting tooth and nail to retain the antitrust exemptions so they don't have to truly compete with one another. They don't want reform. They want profits. As a result they and their allies are doing their best to frighten the public about what the health reform proposal currently being written inCongress will or will not do.
Opponents say that the bill would lead to fewer choices for Americans to choose their plan or doctor. The truth is the proposals being considered in the House will increase choice by giving people the ability to choose from an array of private and public health insurance options. Most importantly, if you like the doctor or plan that you have now, you can keep it. The bill will simply give people more choices, especially since one of the critical reforms is taking away the insurance industry's ability to deny coverage and care.
Some have warned that the bill would "ration care". The bill would actually take medical decisions away from insurance companies and put them in the hands of doctors, nurses and patients. No longer will insurance companies, whose primary goal is profits, dictate what care patients receive.
Some people warn of the "Canadian System" of people waiting in line to receive care and having to come to America to get a needed procedure. This is a bogus argument because the plans being considered in Congress today are nothing like the Canadian or European systems. What we are considering is an American system, based on choice and savings.
Simply put, we must do something soon or we face a health insurance crisis. The 47 million Americans in our country today lack health insurance get their health care in the most expensive way imaginable; by waiting until it's too late and going to an emergency room. The cost of this care is then passed on to the rest of us who have health insurance at the rate of over $100 billion a year in increased premiums and higher taxes. If we don't act now, the cost an employer-sponsored family health insurance plan will reach $24,000 by 2016 forcing most American households to spend 45% of their income on health insurance. This is unacceptable to me.
To be clear, I fully support the idea that people who are happy with their health insurance should be able to keep what they have. However, the cost of not doing anything is too great for all of us.
Rep. Peter DeFazio
Fourth District, OREGON