Time to Act

Jesse Jackson | 11/5/2009, 4:53 p.m.
It is time for the Congress to act on health care. Legislators should stiffen their spines and pass the bill. ...

It is time for the Congress to act on health care. Legislators should stiffen their spines and pass the bill. The legislation produced by Speaker Pelosi and the House leadership has many critics. Progressives are dismayed at its weak public option. Conservatives rail against paying for it with tax hikes for those earning over $500,000 a year. Many of us worry whether the health insurance that people are mandated to buy will be affordable for working families.

But for all its weaknesses, the bill would represent a historic reform and a profound increase in security for Americans. Tens of millions of Americans who now live without health insurance would be insured. Millions more who have insurance would be protected from the predatory practices of insurance companies. We should keep our eyes on this prize. This bill doesn't take us all the way to the promised land; no single reform could. But its passage would make America a much better, more just and healthier country.

Amid all the brouhaha of tea- party protests, insurance company disinformation, back alley drug company deals and Republicans obstruction, too many folks have lost track of what the bill does.

It would require insurance companies offer health care insurance to everyone on the same basis. No longer could millions of Americans be excluded -- or gouged -- simply because they have a "pre-existing condition." No longer could insurance companies charge women more for the "pre-existing condition" of being born a woman. This is an immense change. It means that employees needn't be frozen into jobs for fear of losing their insurance. Getting laid off no longer means losing your health insurance forever.

The legislation would require insurance companies to sustain your coverage when you get sick. No longer could they invent reasons to discontinue coverage just when your bills go up. Once covered, Americans can feel secure that their coverage can't be taken away.

The House bill would enable Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs in bulk purchases. And it would erase the so-called "doughnut hole," where seniors with high drug costs suddenly find their coverage runs out. Our most vulnerable population will have far more coverage and pay lower prices for the drugs they need. (And sensibly, the legislation would cut the obscene subsidies given to private insurance companies so that they can compete to weaken Medicare in so-called Medicare Advantage programs).

The legislation would ensure that preventive health costs -- the annual checkup, basic tests -- are covered in full. People would stop skipping preventive care because of cost, so conditions would get identified early when they are easier to treat. Lives will be saved. And we'll save money in the emergency rooms and operations that are required when early detection doesn't happen.

Many small businesses find it harder and harder to afford health care. In this bill, individuals and small businesses will be able to select policies from competitive "exchanges," enabling them to lower costs by pooling their numbers, and force insurance companies to compete. A public option will compete with private insurance companies in the exchange, but -- because of the power of the health insurance lobby --it will not be based on Medicare pricing, limiting its ability to control costs. According to an academic study, "Get Sick, Get Out," by Dr. Christopher Robertson of Harvard and Dr. Michael Collins of the University of Wisconsin, a fact that runs counter to the national conversation is that medical bills are a major cause of home foreclosures. About half of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills -- and three fourths of those who file were insured. These medical bankruptcies are driven by homeowners who care for ill relatives, aging parents or an infirm family member.