Over the course of many decades, Presidents and Congressional leaders have sought to bring meaningful reform to the way health care works in this country. Last weekend, I joined my House colleagues to do what others could not: pass comprehensive health care reform.
On Tuesday, President Obama signed historic legislation that finally puts the interests of the American people ahead of the health insurance companies’ bottom line. Some 32 million Americans currently locked out of the system will gain access to coverage, exploding premiums will begin to go down, and all Americans will be able to choose the plan that’s best for them and their family. And under this new law, insurance companies for the first time ever, will be held accountable, putting a stop to the worst industry practices such as denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and dropping your coverage when you get sick.
This reform is crucial to our economy. It is the largest deficit reduction measure enacted in 17 years, cutting the deficit by $148 billion over the first ten years, and $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. Small businesses will receive $40 billion in tax credits to make it easier for them to provide coverage for their workers – so they don’t have to choose between health care and hiring. Middle class families will get $400 billion in tax credits to lower their premiums so they don’t have to worry about going bankrupt because of an illness. Children will be able to stay on their parent’s health care plans until they are 26 years of age, a major benefit in this uncertain economy for recent grads looking for work.
By allowing Americans to keep their insurance when they switch jobs and providing access to quality, affordable coverage on the individual market, this reform will give workers greater flexibility and unleash our true entrepreneurial potential. No longer dependent on her employer for health insurance, a woman will have the option of leaving an unfulfilling job to start her own business, for example.
In the coming days, a House-passed package of improvements to the original Senate health care bill that is now law will be considered by the Senate. These improvements will maximize affordability for the middle class, ensure that no one state is singled out for special deals, and ensure that the prescription drug “donut hole” is fully closed to lower costs for seniors.
While some aspects of this reform will take time to put into place, many changes will happen almost immediately. Within the next six months, insurers will no longer be allowed to drop people when they get sick. People with pre-existing conditions will no longer be denied coverage. Lifetime limits and restrictive annual limits on coverage will be eliminated. New private plans will be compelled to cover preventative services and immunizations with no co-payments and ensure that consumers have access to an effective internal and external process to appeal new insurance plan decisions.
Within the first year of enactment, small businesses that provide coverage to their employees will be eligible for a tax credit of up to 35% of premium costs. Coverage for young people under their parents’ plans will be extended, allowing them to remain covered until their 26th birthday. More funding for new training programs to train a greater number of primary care doctors, nurses, and public health professionals will be available. Our community health centers will finally get the resources they need to increase the number of patients they treat over the next five years by almost two fold.
Once the bill goes into effect, seniors will start to see immediate relief from high prescription prices with a $250 rebate for Medicare beneficiaries who hit the “donut hole.” The legislation also makes preventative services and immunizations free under Medicare right away – eliminating co-payments for preventative services and exempting preventative services from deductibles.
Washington has been struggling to deliver meaningful health care reform for more than six decades. The majority of Americans now understand that the status quo is unsustainable. By casting this highly political, but morally upright vote in support of health care reform last weekend, 219 members of Congress put this country firmly on the path to progress and prosperity for all. I was proud to be one of them.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.