On Sept. 29, a number of California newspapers published an op-ed from California Democratic Party Chair John Burton, weighing in on the current debate of healthcare reform. Here, in its entirety, is that op-ed:
A flurry of new reports from the Treasury Department, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Kaiser Family Foundation underscore something we’ve known in California for a long time: We can’t wait another year for health insurance reform.
According to recent national data from the U.S. Census, the number of uninsured Americans increased from 39.8 million in 2001 to 46.3 million in 2008. Most of them are in the middle class – people who work hard and pay their bills, but don’t get health benefits through their jobs or can’t afford to buy it on the private market. Closer to home, there are now 6.8 million Californians living without insurance – one accident or illness away from financial disaster.
Those with insurance aren’t necessarily better off. New analysis from the Treasury Department found that nearly half of all Americans under the age of 65 will lose their health coverage at some point over the next decade.
Bottom line: Each of us could suddenly find ourselves without health coverage, and we all stand to benefit from health insurance reform. It’s been about 100 years since President Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform. Almost every president since has tried to reform our system without success – piling more burdens on American families and businesses with each missed opportunity.
Now, we’re closer than ever to passing comprehensive reform – four out of five Congressional committees have completed their work and an unprecedented coalition of doctors, nurses, hospitals, seniors and even drug companies are backing action this year.
But if opponents of reform have their way, we’ll fall short again. Premiums will continue to rise three times faster than wages, or deficits will increase until the United States spends more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined.
President Barack Obama’s health insurance reform plan takes the best ideas from Democratic and Republican proposals to address three goals: providing more security and stability for people with insurance; offering affordable, quality choices to those without it; and lowering health care costs for American families, businesses and our government.
For the majority of Americans who already have insurance – through an employer, Medicare, Medicaid or the Veterans Administration – nothing in the president’s plan would require them to change anything about their coverage.
Reform will make their coverage better by outlawing some of the insurance companies’ worst practices. It’ll be against the law to deny coverage based on a preexisting condition, cancel your coverage when you get sick or limit the amount of coverage you can receive. Reform will also limit what insurance companies can charge for out-of-pocket costs and will require them to fully cover preventive care such as routine checkups and mammograms.
For the tens of millions of Americans without insurance, Obama’s plan offers quality, affordable choices.
It would create a new insurance exchange where individuals and small businesses could band together and leverage their purchasing power for better prices. People or small businesses that still couldn’t afford coverage would be eligible for subsidies and tax credits to reduce costs even further.
The president’s plan also calls for the creation of a public insurance option, an invaluable tool that has been inaccurately maligned during the heated health care debate. Here are the facts: The public option isn’t a “government takeover,” not even close. No one would be forced to choose it. Only those who lack insurance would be able to get it.
As the president has said, the public option is simply the best idea he’s seen to inject more competition into the market and ensure that everyone has an affordable choice. Doctors agree – according to a new survey from the New England Journal of Medicine, more than 60 percent of physicians support a public plan.
Obama vows not to sign a bill that adds “one dime” to our deficits. In fact, most of his plan will be paid for wringing savings from the existing system – money that’s either being used inefficiently or abused.
California Democrats back the president’s plan for reform. They aren’t fooled by the distortion and the lies that the president’s plan will create “death panels” (a thoroughly debunked claim) or grant coverage to illegal immigrants (also untrue).
And seniors certainly aren’t falling for bogus Republican claims that health insurance reform will cut Medicare benefits. That’s completely wrong – reform will simply end overpayments to insurance companies and eliminate hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud that pad insurance company profits without improving care for seniors.
California Democrats have heard enough from Republicans who think it’s better politics to kill reform than come up with a plan of their own.
Obama inherited an economy in shambles and escalating deficits, but he’s taken bold and necessary actions to rescue our economy from the brink and start to rebuild it. Health insurance reform is critical to that effort.
The time for partisan bickering is over -now is the time for action. California Democrats will continue to support Obama’s efforts to pass health insurance reform this year.
Chair, California Democratic Party