To the editor:
This week, as the sun shines and spring is starting to arrive, the debate on health care reaches a fever pitch in Washington. Our phones are ringing off the hook with citizens offering opinions pro and con. Emails from supporters of reform and opponents are cascading into our inbox, and the streets around the Capitol are full of people carrying signs. Democracy is alive and, well… conflicted.
Almost everyone says they are for some kind of reform, and that the current system needs to be changed. The question is whether the compromise between the House and Senate bills is the right way to go, and whether the votes to pass it will materialize.
I campaigned in 2006 and 2008 saying I would support any measure that moved America closer to universal coverage for health care. I would have preferred a strong public option, voted for a somewhat weaker version in the House bill only to see it removed by the Senate.
I am still evaluating the effect of the new version on my constituents, and last minute changes are still being made. But here’s the decision I face:
Vote for a bill that bans insurance companies from denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, lowers the cost to seniors of their prescription drugs, sets up a national exchange similar to that enjoyed by members of Congress so individuals and small business can negotiate lower premiums with the strength of a huge bargaining pool, and eliminates co-pays for regular checkups and diagnostic procedures. A bill that also requires all Americans to get health insurance, but provides affordability credits to those who can’t afford their premiums. A bill that will lower the federal deficit significantly over the next two decades, according to the CBO, but which is paid for by some new taxes which are unpopular with many people.
Or, vote against the bill and hope to have a chance to advance a better solution, perhaps piece by piece, in the near future.
The backdrop against which this is happening is a series of premium increases by health insurance companies, like the 39% increase just announced by Anthem Blue Cross in California. Small business and individuals in the Hudson Valley have been telling me about one-year increases of 25% to 35%. When inflation is almost flat, when wages are stagnant, when the economy is still struggling to recover from the recession of the last two years, these premium hikes are unjustifiable and, in my view, immoral.
The process is convoluted and obscured by politics. Republican members of the House spoke out forcefully to keep insurance companies exempt from anti-trust law, then voted en masse with Democrats to stop monopolistic price-fixing and collusion. It appears that not one Republican in the House or Senate will vote for the reform bill this week, although many of their ideas were incorporated in the final language.
And regardless of their complaints about using the reconciliation process in the Senate, Republicans have used it more than Democrats in the last three decades. The Bush tax cuts were passed on reconciliation using a simple majority of 51 Senators. So were children’s health insurance, welfare reform, and COBRA (which stands for Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). So the process is legal, constitutional and fairly common.
The question for me is not so much process, as content. Will my constituents, and all Americans, benefit from this bill? Will analysis of the final language convince me that more problems will be solved than created? I will let you know when and what I decide. Meanwhile, thanks for all of your input, and for the privilege and responsibility of representing you.
John Hall, NY-19