Dear Dr. Chase:
I thought you might appreciate knowing that Thursday afternoon the Senate passed important health care reform legislation.
This bill, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (H.R.4872), is the second and final step by Congress and the president to enact necessary health care reform measures. This legislation now must be approved by the House of Representatives, which will likely occur Thursday evening, and signed into law by President Obama. The first step in this process, the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L.111-148), took place earlier this week. Together, this landmark package will vastly improve access to and the affordability of health care for millions of Americans.
President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law this past Tuesday. Immediately, small businesses got a tax cut to help defray the costs of providing insurance to their employees. Within three months, people with pre-existing conditions will have access to a special fund to help cover the gap until insurance exchanges, where they can obtain coverage, become operational. And retiree health plans will qualify for a reinsurance program to help lower costs. In October, the federal government will begin helping states set up agencies to help consumers choose new health plans or to challenge unfair decisions by their current insurance plan. Eventually, these agencies will assist consumers enrolling in the insurance exchanges where millions of people will find dependable coverage that meets minimum quality standards at a price they are more likely to afford.
Within six months, insurance reforms will begin to take hold. New health plans will be required to let women see an ob-gyn without seeking insurance company approval. They will be prohibited from denying coverage to children based on pre-existing conditions and required to allow children to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26. Health plans will have to provide preventive care without co-pays or deductibles, and they will be barred from setting lifetime coverage limits. These are historic improvements in our health care system, and they will take place within the first six months after the enactment of this legislation.
With the passage of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (H.R.4872) further improvements to the health care reform bill were made, improvements that many called for so loudly during our December debate. Among other measures, this reconciliation bill will provide equitable Medicaid funding for all states, instead of a select few, will close the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” that hurts so many seniors, and will cut the deficit by an additional $143 billion dollars.
In one sense, the health care debate that came to a close this week has been going on for more than a year. But in another sense, it has been going on for a century. Presidents and members of Congress from both parties, seeing health care costs continually rise, have grappled with this issue ever since President Theodore Roosevelt. Yet, attempts at reform have largely fallen short. They have foundered for many reasons: the subject is personal and complex; the timing has been wrong; the politics have been difficult; and leaders on all sides have failed to find the compromises that would have enabled them to move forward. But, the recurring theme is that time and again, reformers have failed to overcome the enormous obstacles that those who profit from the status quo have been able to erect. And because we have fallen short in the past, Americans today face a health care system that costs too much and too often delivers too little.
The health insurance industry has dominated health care decisions in this country for too long. I voted in favor of this historic legislation to finish the task of bringing landmark change to health care in America.
You may be interested to read my full statement, which is available on my website, at [http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/release.cfm?id=323359].