You are browsing the archive for health care reform.

Cows on the Track

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by Gerald McEntee

Michael Steele, the hapless chairman of the Republican National Committee, was asked a while back by Fox News how he would stop health care reform. "I will be the cow on the track," he answered. Steele believed that President Obama’s historic effort to end the ongoing abuses of the insurance industry could be stopped even after it had passed both the House and the Senate. As a video posted on DailyKos website makes clear, cows can’t stop trains. Yet this hasn’t stopped Republican officials all across the country from stepping up to be cows on the track now that health care reform has been signed into law.

Republicans are playing political games as the U.S. Senate considers legislation that would make important fixes in the historic health care reform legislation President Obama signed this week. The reconciliation bill would make health coverage more affordable for seniors and the middle class, and dramatically lessen the burden of an excise tax on working families. Now, Republicans are trying to block passage of those important improvements. They have no shame.

They are introducing amendments that serve no purpose except to derail the fix. Let’s be clear. The Senate should reject every amendment that is introduced to this important corrective legislation. Changes in the proposed law, except those mandated under the rules of the Senate, serve no purpose except to delay the implementation of health care overhaul. Amendments to the reconciliation bill are simply "poison pills," designed to sabotage health care reform. They are tricks concocted by Republicans. They are cows on the track.

There will be more than enough time in the years ahead to address changes and make improvements in the health care law. This week is not the time to do it. My friend Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, was right when he called on senators to vote no on amendments, even on issues that we would otherwise strongly support. "Republicans are going to use a "kitchen sink" amendment strategy, throwing everything they can at the bill to try to sink reform," Rich notes. "Working families won’t be fooled by dirty tricks from the opponents of health reform out to do the bidding of the insurance companies. And U.S. senators should not be fooled either."

When we started our work on health care reform three years ago, we set our sights high. But we knew that the final legislation would not include everything we wanted. But this is not new. Major social justice reforms are never achieved in one fell swoop. When the 1957 Civil Rights Act was signed into law, it fell short of what was needed to bring about equal rights. It failed to include key protections like voting rights and access to public places. But it was a start. And it laid the groundwork for future laws that made more progress. Originally, both Social Security and Medicare excluded public sector workers. But over time that has been rectified. The same will be true for health care reform. These bills achieve enormous good and they lay a strong foundation for us to build on.

I was pleased to hear that some supporters of changes in health care reform have decided not to push amendments to the reconciliation bill.

Senator Michael Bennet, one of the Senate’s great supporters of the public option, writes that "the bill before the Senate this week is far too important to use as a political football. This bill would close the senior prescription drug coverage loophole that most people know as the ‘donut hole.’ It would remove the special political deals, like the ‘cornhusker kickback.’ It would further reduce the deficit up to $1.2 trillion over the next two decades and cover even more Americans, bringing the total to 32 million Americans."

Bennet correctly notes: "This will not happen if the political games continue. That is why public option supporters, including many organizations that have been on the frontline of the fight with me, are urging a vote on the reconciliation bill, without any amendments."

What we have now is a law that does enormous good for millions of American families by making health care a right for the first time in our history. And it turns out Americans like that idea.

Senate Republicans aren’t the only cows moving onto the track. Just yesterday, Republican attorneys general in more than a dozen states announced that they would challenge the constitutionality of the new law’s requirement that Americans have health insurance or pay a little extra on their federal income taxes. These Republican officials are a disgrace. Every citizen of their respective states is required to buy car insurance before they can drive the car out of the lot. Is that unconstitutional? Of course not. I thought the GOP opposed frivolous lawsuits, but apparently they don’t when they are trying to be cows on the track. What they are doing is wasting taxpayer money to score political points with the extreme and irrational voices that now dominate the Republican Party.

Some prominent Republicans understand that those in their party who have taken extreme positions in opposition to health care reform have done a disservice to our country. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum describes it this way: "It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. We followed the most radical voices in the party, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat." When will others in his party recognize that Americans want Republicans and Democrats to work together with President Obama to lead this country forward? When will they stop acting like cows on the track?

This is the Week

9:29 am in Uncategorized by Gerald McEntee

This is the week we’ve been waiting for.

This is the week when Democrats in Congress can prove that it is still possible for our political institutions to stand with the American people in a time of crisis.

This is the week when we will tell who is looking out for political cover and who is standing with patients, families and doctors who need health care reform.

Let’s be clear about what is at stake when the House votes on health care reform. How you answer these six questions will answer how you stand on health care reform:

  1. Should insurance companies be able to deny patients coverage if they have a preexisting condition? This bill will end the ability of insurance companies to abuse Americans who have pre-existing conditions.
  2. Should insurance companies be able to end your insurance coverage when you get sick? This bill will end their ability to do that.
  3. Should insurance companies be able to double premiums and deductibles whenever they want with no controls on their actions? This bill will regulate the insurance companies and allow the government to prevent massive hikes in premiums and deductibles that individuals and business have to pay.
  4. Should insurance companies have to pay for preventive care? This bill will require it.
  5. Should parents be able to keep their unemployed children on their policies until the young adult turns 26? That’s in the bill.
  6. Should taxpayers be paying more than500,000 in subsidies to the insurance companies? Those sweetheart deals end when President Obama signs health care reform.

Health care reform will lay the groundwork for covering an additional 31 million uninsured Americans. A family of three earning $37,000 a year would pay less than $200 per month for good health insurance for the entire family. The family’s out-of-pocket costs would be limited too, so even if someone in the family faced a serious illness, they would not have to pay more than $4,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

Don’t believe the corporate flacks and Republican talking heads who tell you this is a complicated issue. There is nothing complicated about it. The only people on Capitol Hill who are confused about health care reform are the people in the pockets of insurance company executives. The folks you see on cable TV, who say we need to start over and spend another year — or another decade — before we pass the reform Americans need, are folks who are reading talking points written by insurance company lobbyists and Republican party pollsters. They say that the public opposes reform, but what the public really opposes are the Republican attempts to water down reform and keep the insurance companies happy.

Now, the top Republicans in Congress are spreading the lie that President Obama’s reforms will hurt Medicare recipients. They are making this up, just as they made up the charges about socialized medicine, government control of health care and death panels. These frauds — and that’s what these politicians are — claim that Medicare will be threatened by President Obama’s reforms. These are the same characters who have tried for years to cut Medicare funding and privatize Social Security. Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Eric Cantor can run from their records, but they can’t hide. Seniors are not going to buy their new found love of Medicare.

These are the same people claiming we can’t afford health care reform. They ignore the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, which concluded that health care reform actually cuts the federal deficit. That’s because President Obama is cutting the waste and fraud that Republicans and the insurance companies allowed to spread in the health care system. He’s asking wealthy Americans to pay a bit more so that Medicare will be more solvent and the federal government’s health care costs will decline in the years ahead. Seniors will be happy to know that these reforms will end the donut hole they face on their prescription drug benefit, so they won’t have to worry about losing their savings to prescription bills.

If you care about regulating the insurance companies, cutting the deficit, strengthening Medicare and helping working families, you need to take action today. Call your member of Congress and tell them to support health care reform. You can call your U.S. representative now toll free at 888-460-0813. Tell them the time has come to stand up to the insurance companies. The time has come to pass health care reform.

AFSCME members are doing their part. We will make tens of thousands of calls and write letters. We will spend $1 million on television ads this week to let members of Congress know that working families will not let the insurance industry and their front groups dominate the television airways as this historic opportunity to end insurance company abuses comes to a vote.

Don’t be fooled by the insurance companies, the Chamber of Commerce and the GOP operatives. If we fail to defeat the insurance companies, Americans will look back at this week as the one when we lost the best chance in generations to pass a bill to help working families deal with health care. Call your representative and tell them to support health care reform. It’s time to rein in the abuses. It’s time to control skyrocketing costs. It’s time for an up-or-down Congressional vote . It’s time to tell the insurance companies: Your time is up.

Finish Reform Right — Don’t Tax Health Benefits

2:00 pm in Uncategorized by Gerald McEntee

Working families are struggling with the high cost of health care, yet the health care bill passed by the U.S. Senate on Christmas Eve would tax their health care benefits. That’s a terrible mistake. Unfortunately, even some progressive leaders, like my friend Sen. John Kerry, have been taken in by myths that favor the tax. In a Huffington Post article published earlier this week, Senator Kerry asserts that an excise tax on high cost health plans will help control health care costs without taxing workers. The facts simply don’t support his conclusion.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), the vast majority of revenue collected from the tax will come from individual income taxes and joint filers and not by insurance companies. Employers will respond to the tax by reducing the benefits they offer employees, so they can fit their premium charges under the tax threshold. To the extent insurance companies pay the tax, the tax will be directly passed through to employers and employees in the form of higher premium charges.

If Congress decides to tax health care benefits for the first time in American history, it will be middle class workers across America who will pay the price. The first thing employers will do is slash the health care benefits they provide to avoid the cost of the new tax. For years, workers have given up wage increases in order to protect their health benefits. Now, those workers and their families will lose the health benefits on which they rely.

Read the rest of this entry →

Countering the Lies about Health Care Reform

12:36 pm in Uncategorized by Gerald McEntee

All across the country, the opponents of health care reform are spreading misinformation about President Barack Obama proposals to improve health care coverage for all Americans. We shouldn’t be surprised about that. The insurance companies, the right-wing radio hosts, the K-Street lobbyists and the Republican leadership who are spreading the misinformation have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. They are willing to lie to protect industry profits.

It is troubling to see that so many well-meaning citizens are listening to the lies and believing them. One has only to watch a handful of angry questioners at some televised town-hall meetings to know that some of these questioners are good people who are troubled by what they are hearing. They want to know the facts. But all too often, they are denied answers by the right-wing rabble that eschews the truth by shouting others down.

That’s wrong. The opponents of health care reform are pulling out all the stops to kill the reform that millions of Americans need to improve our health care. They’re spreading falsehoods and creating chaos. They know what they are doing. All of us need to work together to break through the lies and shouts and slurs. We need to make sure that our friends and neighbors know the truth and can separate the lies from the facts about health insurance reform.

When Sarah Palin writes that President Obama is going to set up "death panels" to decide whether her child with Down syndrome, or elderly parents, are going to live or die, she is spreading a lie. That’s a disgrace and she is not alone. A few others liars need to be told to stop it, too.

Senior citizens seem to be Read the rest of this entry →

Taxing Health Benefits Could Kill Health Care Reform

11:53 am in Uncategorized by Gerald McEntee

In recent days, two generally progressive commentators have written in favor of taxing all or part of the value of employer provided health benefits as a way of paying for some of the costs of health care reform. They’ve suggested that AFSCME might “kill” health care reform because of our opposition to taxing the value of benefits. Of course we reject that characterization of our efforts.

In fact, AFSCME plays a leading role in the effort to pass real health care reform. Our stand against taxing benefits is grounded in a conviction that regressive taxation cannot cure our health care ills. Just as importantly, we are concerned that linking an unpopular tax to health care reform could kill our efforts to provide health care for all.

The argument in favor of taxing benefits centers on two points. First, like all tax exclusions and deductions, the exclusion of health benefits from taxation is worth more to higher income individuals who are in higher tax brackets. Second, the federal government foregoes $145 billion annually by shielding employer-sponsored health care benefits from taxation. Fair enough.

But there are real risks that come with a tax on health benefits. They Read the rest of this entry →

President Obama is Right: Health Care Reform Cannot Wait

1:27 pm in Uncategorized by Gerald McEntee

On Tuesday night, President Obama spoke to the nation about how we will rebuild our economy. Like many Americans, I was heartened to hear him renew his commitment to pursue health care reform and to do it THIS YEAR. He told us that the "cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough." And he is right.

AFSCME members know this too well. The cost of health care coverage has skyrocketed. It threatens the economic security of working families, it strains state and federal budgets and it reduces the competitiveness of American businesses, especially those that compete in the global market. And shamefully, more than 46 million people have no coverage at all. Those fortunate enough to have coverage too often receive poor quality care.

We agree with President Obama that in reforming our health care system, we need to build on what works. Those who like their coverage should keep it. Those who don’t, should have a choice of private insurance plans or a high quality public health insurance plan. A public health insurance plan would operate more cost-effectively and drive quality improvements. This would force efficiencies and innovation in private insurance coverage. We need an American solution in which all of us–individuals, employers and government–share responsibility for guaranteeing quality, affordable health care we can all count on. Read the rest of this entry →