A senator’s perspective

Why the New Health Reform Law Will Succeed

By Sen. Tom Harkin

The health reform law that President Obama signed on March 23 will transform America in important and positive ways. Indeed, it already has. Despite all the talk recently about how our nation has become divided and ungovernable, we have proved not only that we are governable, but also that we still have the capacity to act with boldness and vision.

One Nobel Prize-winning economist remarked that passage of the health reform bill is “a victory for America’s soul.” At long last, we will ensure that every citizen has access to quality, affordable health insurance. The law also includes an array of provisions and protections to strengthen the coverage of those who already have insurance.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) confirms that the legislation fulfills President Obama’s pledge that health reform must be fully paid for and not add a dime to the deficit. In fact, the law will reduce the deficit by $143 billion in its first decade, and by a whopping $1.2 trillion in the second decade.

If you already have insurance and you’re happy with it, you will be able to keep it. However, the new law will provide better insurance options. And CBO estimates that premiums will be lower for the vast majority of Americans, including small businesses and the self-employed.

These are some of the benefits that will kick in over the coming months. The new law:

• Cracks down on abuses by health insurance companies – abuses that currently leave most Americans just one serious illness away from bankruptcy. Among other things, the law extends coverage to people with preexisting conditions, and eventually will ban outright the practice of denying coverage due to preexisting condition. It stops insurers from cancelling the policies of people who get sick. It bans lifetime caps on benefit payments, and tightly limits annual caps. And it ends discrimination against women, who now pay premiums up to 48% higher than premiums for men.

• Makes health insurance affordable for the middle class and small businesses — the largest tax cut for health care in history — reducing premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

• Gives millions of Americans the same private insurance choices that members of Congress will have — through a new competitive health insurance market that keeps costs down.

• Improves Medicare benefits with lower prescription drug costs, better chronic care, free preventive care, and nearly a decade more of solvency for Medicare. The prescription drug “donut hole” will be reduced and eventually eliminated.

• In addition, the law includes a truly transformational element — a broad array of provisions promoting wellness, prevention, and public health. The aim is to jumpstart America’s transition from our current sick care system into a genuine health care system, one that is focused on keeping us healthy and out of the hospital in the first place.

To this end, at the clinical level, the law requires reimbursement for proven, cost-effective preventive services such as cancer screenings, nutrition counseling, and smoking-cessation programs. This means health professionals will be able to offer these services to you before you get diseases such as diabetes, cancer, or emphysema.

For essential screenings and annual physicals, the law gets rid of the co-pays and deductibles that currently discourage many people from doing the right things to stay healthy.

The law makes major new investments in community wellness and public health, and helps businesses large and small to create workplace wellness programs. It requires large chain restaurants to post basic nutrition information right on the menu, so consumers can make informed, healthy choices.

Make no mistake, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act doesn’t just tinker around the edges; it changes the paradigm. The aim is to recreate America as a genuine wellness society focused on healthful lifestyles, good nutrition, physical activity, and preventing the chronic diseases that take such a toll on our bodies and our budgets.

As was the case with Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, health reform was passed by Congress in the teeth of angry, often grossly misleading attacks — everything from “death panels” to “socialism.” It is disappointing that some die-hard political partisans continue to make false attacks. The bill is now law. It is time to put politics aside, and to move forward as a united American people.

On that score, we can learn a hopeful lesson from the history of Social Security and Medicare. Both were born amidst bitter debate, but became hugely successful programs that won overwhelming bipartisan support. I predict the same success and eventual bipartisan support for the new health reform law, as it is phased in and becomes better understood. We are going to create a reformed insurance and health care system that works not just for the healthy and the wealthy, but for all Americans.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2010


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