Health care plan unveiled

Published 5:41 pm Sunday, November 1, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – Back on Sept. 3 while addressing a group gathered at Roanoke-Chowan Community College, Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) stood firm behind his commitment to help bring about health care reform.

On Thursday, the Democrat-controlled United States House of Representatives unveiled the Affordable Health Care for America Act. The measure, which may go to a vote next week in the House, extends health care coverage to millions of Americans who currently lack a health plan and creates a new option of government-run insurance.

Butterfield applauded the revised health insurance reform legislation put forward by the House.

“The health insurance market is broken and in immediate need of reform,” Butterfield said. “Under the current system, private health insurance companies are increasingly consolidating, finding more ways to stand between patients and their doctors, and focused on boosting profits instead of affordable, quality, patient-focused health care. As a result the number of uninsured Americans has grown to 47 million and premiums have risen over 120 percent in the past decade for those who do have coverage.”

The Affordable Health Care for America Act blends and updates the three versions of previous bills passed by House committees in July. Butterfield said it embodies President Obama’s key goals for health reform – slowing the growth of out-of-control costs, introducing competition into the health care marketplace to keep coverage affordable and insurers honest, protecting people’s choices of doctors and health plans and assuring all Americans access to quality, stable and affordable health care.

The legislation will ensure that 96 percent of Americans will be covered by a quality, affordable health plan.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the cost of expanding coverage at $894 billion, consistent with the $900 billion coverage mark laid out by President Obama. And, according to the CBO estimates, the bill reduces the deficit by at least $30 billion over the next 10 years.

Butterfield said the legislation includes critical reforms to the insurance industry, “so that Americans will never again worry about being denied coverage or that their coverage will be dropped or watered down when they need it most.”

The Congressman also said that he is pleased that the bill includes a public option.

The public exchange would also be open to small businesses staring in 2013, when firms with up to 25 employees could enter the exchange; in 2014, firms with up to 50 employees; in 2015, firms with up to 100 employees; in 2015 and beyond, the Commissioner could allow larger employers as appropriate.

Butterfield said there has been a long and purposeful process in developing the legislation. The House has held about 100 hearings on health care since 2007 and House members have held nearly 3,000 health care events across the country, including Butterfield’s health care town hall meeting held this past August in Rocky Mount. Additionally, three House committees have spent 160 hours on hearings and markups of health care legislation.

“This has been a deliberative process on an enormous issue in need of immediate action,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield also said that many of the concerns people had about the original House proposal have been addressed in the revised health insurance reform bill. Among the notable changes:

Reduces the deficit by $30 billion over the next 10 years and continues to reduce the deficit of the second 10 years.

Provides a mechanism for addressing the Medicare payment system that takes geographic differences into account.

Begins to address the issue of medical malpractice by establishing a state incentive grant program to encourage states to implement alternatives to traditional medical malpractice litigation.

Allows for the creation of State Health Insurance Compacts by permitting states to enter into agreements to allow for the sale of insurance across state lines when the state legislatures agree.

Limits any surcharges to millionaires – only the wealthiest 0.3% of Americans would pay a surcharge in order to make health insurance affordable to middle class families.

Exempts small businesses with payrolls below $500,000 – or 86% of all America’s businesses – from the mandate to provide health insurance.

Immediately begins to close the Medicare Part D donut hole.

Requires the HHS Secretary to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries in order to save money.

In regards to the surcharges on American citizens, the bill outlines an income tax surcharge of 5.4 percent on individuals making at least $500,000 annually and couples making at least $1 million.

By 2013, the legislation also requires nearly everyone to sign up for health coverage either through their employer, a government program or the new exchange.