Monday, August 10, 2009

A Letter from Rep Lloyd Doggett [D-TX]

Dear Ruth:

You have probably heard about the organized group that disrupted my recent neighborhood office hours in South Austin. They came not so much to be heard as to deny others the right to be heard. And this appears to be part of a coordinated, nationwide effort.

While much has been reported about their protest, little has been explained about their broader agenda. During their protest, they made clear that they were not just determined to halt new health care reform, but also seek to end Social Security and Medicare. Now one of the organizers of this disruption has articulated her vision that we should rely exclusively on private education. Click here to read her own words as it appeared in the Statesman recently.

In visiting at local gatherings of teachers preparing for the new school year, I remain hopeful about public education-all that it can do to bind our community together and prepare our youth for tomorrow. I reject the extreme notion that public education or public health care deserve no place in our country.

As we return for a vote in September, I am more committed than ever to winning approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care. Too many of our neighbors go uninsured or underinsured; too many, after years of paying premiums, find themselves with inadequate coverage once they become ill, and too many are denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Attached is a recent article that I wrote explaining why I believe that the legislation on which I have been working in the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee represents an important step forward in addressing these concerns. I will be speaking at a major public gathering in support of health reform at 3 p.m. on Saturday, August 29 at First United Methodist Church, 1201 Lavaca in Austin.

As always, I welcome your advice on these and other federal issues.

Affordable Health Care Indispensable to Healthy Economy
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D), Senior Member of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee

I have been seeking a meaningful answer to the many shortcomings American families encounter with health care. Our House proposal has now won endorsement from the American Medical Association, AARP, and Consumers Union. But during recent Central Texas meetings, I have heard from some neighbors with legitimate concerns about the complexities of our approach, others who suffer from a steady diet of cable television misinformation, and a few who are just against anything that President Obama favors. Here is how this imperfect bill affects you.

Health care peace of mind --If you are among the 1 in 4 of our neighbors with no health insurance, the 24,000 additional Texans who lose coverage each month, or the many who have insurance with more exceptions than coverage, you will finally be able to get affordable health care through a new Health Insurance Exchange. An estimated 96% of the coverage available through this new marketplace will be from private insurance carriers subject to new national standards and no longer able to decline those with preexisting conditions. One alternative available through the Exchange is a public plan similar to Medicare but subject to the same standards as the private carriers. Like Medicare, the government would not own health care facilities or employ physicians. You can keep the same doctor, and health decisions will continue to be between you and your doctor.

Competition cuts costs -- Budget analysts project that in a decade only 4% of Americans under age 65 will choose this public plan option. What some shamelessly call a "government takeover," is in truth this very modest reform. The public option expands individual choice and spurs real competition among private insurers instead of just pouring billions more into the existing system that is failing too many while doing little to control costs. Opponents, who always insist that government cannot do anything well, now claim that a little public competition threatens these private insurance giants.

Ending coverage games --Even if you already have satisfactory coverage, perhaps through a large private or public employer, you gain much from this initiative. Insurers are prohibited from refusing to renew coverage, charging wildly different premiums to different people for the same coverage, using policy fine print to deny needed coverage, or shifting to you the cost of catastrophic illnesses. And insurers have less justification for substantially increasing premium and copays, while cutting benefits. As President Obama said, "Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage." No longer will losing insurance prevent your seeking a better job or starting a new business.

If you rely on Medicare, you will get better access to preventive services and medications, including gradual closing of the "donut hole" gap in drug coverage. Increased payments to physicians means more will accept new Medicare patients.

To those fearing the "rationing" of health care, look more closely at existing rationing. In 2006, 22,000 Americans died because they lacked health insurance-that's real rationing. This bill ends rationing that already occurs every day.

Small businesses win -- With skyrocketing costs, limited bargaining power, and routine discrimination, many small businesses are struggling to maintain decent coverage, paying 18% more per employee than other employers. This bill ends coverage games for small businesses just as it does for individuals. For many small businesses, the new Health Insurance Exchange will offer lower cost, higher quality coverage. Eligible businesses will get rates and a wider choice of plans, currently available only to large employers. For most small business owners concerned that they will be penalized for not providing insurance that they cannot afford, there are tax credits to assist many with as much as 50% of the cost and a complete exemption for the smallest with an annual payroll below $250,000. And I want to do even more.

Keeping the price affordable -- If you are a taxpayer concerned about costs, covering the many uninsured does initially add about 4% to the cost of the current health care system. But rather than incurring more public debt, we pay for this -with about half coming from savings through improved health care delivery and most of the rest from a surcharge on those with incomes over $350,000. A family with $500,000 in income would pay an extra $1,500 a year. Other revenues are gained by closing some tax shelters and international tax avoidance schemes that I have fought for years. Additionally, this bill transitions us from a sickness system to a wellness system, which will save costs as people access the preventive care and other services they need on the front end rather than seeking more expensive care after becoming really sick.

If we can get a better handle on health care costs, which have consistently spiraled faster than inflation, families can devote less income to health care, employers can give raises rather than just pay higher premiums, and we can ensure Medicare's long-term sustainability.

I do agree that this bill is no panacea. It is not what I would have written by myself. During the legislative process, it will be changed, hopefully, to do even more to contain costs. But it can lead us to a victory for healthy families, a healthy economy, and a healthy America. Let's keep at improving it until we get this important job accomplished.

Lloyd Doggett

No comments: