Senate health care vote lays the groundwork

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WASHINGTON-Health care reformers applauded the Senate's 60 to 39 vote, Christmas Eve, for a health care reform bill, calling it "groundwork" for expanding and improving the health care system in the weeks and months ahead.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA) said, "Thanks to today's Senate vote, we are one step closer to bringing needed reform to our nation's health system. The bill will reduce disability and death in the United States, lays the groundwork for future strengthening of our health system and gets us closer to our goal of universal health coverage."

Andrew Stern, president of the 2.2 million member Service Employees International Union said the maneuvers to secure the 60 Senate votes needed to shut off the Republican filibuster "was disappointing," but he added, "Make no mistake about it: for working Americans, this vote signals progress."

Stern, whose union represents over a million health care workers, added, "Right now, thousands of Americans are losing their health coverage every day. Every one of us knows friends and family struggling while the insurance industry makes billions in profits and working people lose their homes, file for bankruptcy and even die - all because of the fundamental lack of affordability."

He blasted the Republicans who "sat on the sidelines jeering, rooting for America to fai l... the GOP's failure to participate in solution-seeking is a disgrace."

Stern urged labor and its allies to step up the pressure on the House-Senate conference to remove the regressive tax in the Senate version on mis-named "Cadillac" health benefit plans, many won in union contract negotiations in which workers sacrificed higher wages to win slightly improved health care benefits. The House version, by contrast would impose higher taxes on the wealthy to help pay for the sweeping reform that is expected to insure 30 million people without coverage.

National Organization for Women President, Terrie O'Neill, said, "We are not in the business of trying to ruin the prospects of health care reform. The bill's elimination of gender rating and of denial of coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions are welcome ...On balance though, this bill harms women..." She called on the grassroots movement to mobilize to demand that the discriminatory Stupak and Nelson amendments be removed in the House-Senate conference.
Health Care for America Now (HCAN) spokesman, Richard Kirsch, said, "With passage by the Senate, the nation has moved one big step closer to comprehensive health care reform."

HCAN, he continued, "will work to get the strongest bill to the P\president's desk, one that provides good, affordable coverage to all and holds the insurance companies accountable."
Kirsch said HCAN will work to insure that the bill Obama signs requires employers "to help pay for good coverage, that premiums are affordable to families, that we do not tax benefits, that we enact tough insurance regulations, and that we offer the choice of a public health option."
Families USA, a leader in the defense of health care for low-income families hailed the Senate vote. "Happy, happy holidays!" they proclaimed on their web site. "The Senate passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act on Christmas Eve. Next step? Resolve differences between the House and Senate bills."

In a Dec. 17 letter to Senate Majority Leader, Reid, Families USA President, Ron Pollack, wrote, "We believe that families across America will benefit enormously from the bill's extensive improvements to our nation's health care system. By contrast, the failure to enact health insurance reform would have disastrous consequences for America's families and businesses."
Pollack lays out in detail the positive gains, including extension of coverage to "tens of millions of people" giving "peace of mind for working families who will no longer lose health coverage when a parent is laid or needs to switch jobs."

Other gains he lists:
• It would end insurance company denial of coverage for so-called "pre-existing conditions" and prohibit "unaffordable, discriminatory premiums" to those with serious illness or injury;
• It outlaws charging "discriminatory premiums" to women;
• It provides new and substantial premium subsidies to moderate income families so they can afford health insurance;
• It protects against "high out-of-pocket costs" by prohibiting annual or lifetime limits on how much an insurance plan covers;
• It extends to age 26 how long children can be covered by a family's plan.
• It provides subsidies to small business to enable them to provide coverage for their workers;
• The Senate leadership has promised the House-Senate conference will take steps to close the so-called "doughnut hole" in the Medicare prescription drug plan;
• The bill reduces the "wasteful, windfall payments to private insurance companies in the Medicare Advantage plan. "In the absence of this legislation, taxpayers will continue to be fleeced...and the Medicare program will increasingly privatized," Pollack wrote.

Pollack concluded that Families USA will continue to work "so that the conference committee bill strengthens premium subsidies" and provides more protection against unaffordable "out-of-pocket" costs "especially for people and families in greatest need." He warned that the people will judge the outcome through a "personal pocketbook test" adding, "We need to ensure that we Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association said, "Thanks to today's Senate, we are one step closer to bringing needed reform to our nation's health system. The bill will reduce disability and death in the United States, lays the groundwork for future strengthening of our health system and gets us closer to our goal of universal health coverage." meet this affordability test."

Photo: whitehouse.gov
President Obama comments on Senate vote.