House health reform bill — major landmark on road to affordable, accesible healthcare

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By Consumers Union on Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

While most of today’s news stories about the House’s landmark healthcare bill focus on paying for health reform, there’s a lot of significant stuff in the 1,000-page bill that should not be overlooked.

First, the big stuff. The House bill (read it here) will make sure “virtually every American will always have dependable, affordable, comprehensive healthcare,” says DeAnn Friedholm, who manages Consumers Union’s health reform effort and, like so many others, has spent the better part of her career trying to achieve just that.

To help expand coverage to the more than 46 million uninsured Americans, and make healthcare more affordable for everyone, the bill will:

*Put in place measures to slow the meteoric rise in health costs, and beef up programs to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid programs.

*Create a national health insurance exchange where those offering health coverage have to follow tough rules – including not denying people insurance for a pre-existing condition, or picking only the healthiest Americans to cover. The exchange would make pricing transparent, so you will know exactly what will be covered, and what you will be paying for it.

*Give Americans the choice of a publicly run insurance plan, starting in 2013, that will compete with policies offered by private companies – a new burst of competition that will help drive down costs.

*Helps those who can’t afford coverage with ‘affordability credits,’ that basically buy down the price of a policy based on income. The lowest-income households (about $24,000 for a family of three) will get the maximum amount of help, while households with incomes approaching 400 percent of the Federal poverty level (about $73,000 for a family of three) receive very limited assistance.

“This bill goes a long way toward addressing consumers’ fear of bankruptcy from high healthcare costs,” Friedholm says.

But also in the bill – which starts getting picked apart and added to Wednesday in the House Education and Labor Committee – are major improvements that Consumers Union and our activists have been working on for years to improve the quality of our care, as well as the quality of information about that care:

*All hospitals will be required to publicly report on their rates of hospital-acquired infections. Each year these preventable infections kill nearly 100,000 Americans and cost us up to $45 billion in extra healthcare costs. Public reporting of infection rates encourage healthcare facilities to clean up their acts – and Consumers Union has worked to pass reporting laws in 26 states. This bill will make sure every American has that added protection – and information.

“At long last, this bill offers a national response to this deadly problem, by providing public information on what each local hospital is doing to stop these unnecessary deaths,” Friedholm says. “The light of publicity will enable consumers — and dedicated medical staffs — to insist on major quality reforms.”

*Funding unbiased, scientific research to determine which medications and treatments work best, and getting that information out to patients and doctors so we don’t rely on TV ads and drug company marketing campaigns. The House bill creates a commission to direct this work, and the the majority of members will be doctors, healthcare practitioners, consumers and patients, as well as someone with expertise in health disparities. Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs project puts this research into practical, easy-to-understand language so you and your doctor can discuss the best treatments options.

The bill includes a raft of other reforms that we will keep you updated on. And the political process ahead in Congress will be no doubt be one E-ticket ride. But in the meantime, we just passed a major milestone on the long and bumpy road to getting more affordable healthcare for all.

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