Fighting for the best possible final health reform bill
By Consumers Union on Monday, January 4th, 2010
The next few weeks we’ll see furious work in Washington on a final health reform bill, as both House and Senate leaders attempt to merge their respective bills into one measure that gives all Americans access to affordable, reliable health coverage.
We’ve examined both Senate and House bills and have laid out the top priorities for getting consumers the best deal here, with affordable coverage being key.
Despite its shortcomings, the recently passed Senate bill still has a lot in common with its House counterpart, and will get millions more people covered by health insurance and create incentives for better quality care. The House staff has laid out the key similarities between the two bills here, but among them:
• Preventing insurance companies from denying insurance to people with pre-existing conditions or refusing to cover needed medical procedures.
• Getting millions of hardworking Americans discounts on the price of an insurance policy. These discounts would come in the form of a new federal tax credit designed to make insurance affordable for average families and small business.
• Easier shopping for insurance policies – for both individuals and small businesses – by creating clear benefit standards so policies can be easily compared and priced.
• Safer healthcare through financial incentives for doctors and hospitals to improve the quality of their care and reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions.
• Better preventive care and better drug prices for seniors, and extending the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.
But there’s still work to be done to get the best final reform bill out of Congress. Provisions can still be changed and the best of both bills can be combined and improved on in the coming weeks of negotiations. Among other things, we’ll be working hard for:
Affordable insurance coverage: Coverage must be affordable for everyone – those with coverage through their jobs, and those without. Employers shouldn’t shift more cost onto workers. And coverage must be reasonable for those who buy their own policies. Under the Senate and House versions, many Americans will get deep discounts, but some families may still pay up to 17 percent of their income on insurance – let’s do better!
Holding insurance companies accountable: Insurance is not only expensive, but hard to purchase for individuals and small businesses. That’s why both the House and Senate create an “exchange” where you can easily shop and compare, and to ensure companies cover what they claim and can’t charge excessive premiums. But the Senate bill leaves it up to each state’s Governor to set up an exchange – which could mean less aggressive negotiations with insurers, more overhead, and more potential for insurers to game the system. We need a strong national insurance exchange that gets you the best deal and the best coverage options no matter where you live.
More choice through the public option: Unless the insurance industry faces new competition, they have little incentive to lower prices and improve services. Consumers should have more choices in coverage, including the not-for-profit, accountable public option that competes for your business alongside the insurance giants.
Patient’s Bill of Rights: Consumers deserve the set of strong protections in the Senate bill. Among these rights: Your choice of doctor would be protected, even in you change insurance plans; you wouldn’t have to get “pre-authorization” for care in an emergency; and you could appeal coverage denials.
To better understand what’s in the bills, and how they would affect you and your family, go to our “How Would Health Reform Affect You?” site. We’ll continue to update it with the latest information from the House and Senate bills, as well as a final bill when it’s hammered out.
The final shape of America’s health reform is in all of our hands, and we’ll continue — with your help — to push for the strongest possible reforms that benefit you and your family.