Posts filed under ‘Help for Low Income People’

It Takes 2 To Tango: Senator Baucus Tells The Truth About (Not)Bipartisan Health Care Reform

Senate Floor Remarks of Senator Max Baucus  December 22, 2009

“Mr. President, it has been more than a month since the Majority Leader moved to proceed to the health care reform bill before us today.  At long last, the Senate is now in the final throes of passing this historic legislation.

From the beginning, this Senator has sought out what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”  That’s the way that this Senator has always sought to legislate.

A year and a half ago, I convened a bipartisan retreat at the Library of Congress.  Half a year ago, I convened three bipartisan roundtables with health care experts.  Half a year ago, the Finance Committee conducted three bipartisan walk-throughs of the major concepts behind the bill before us today.

We went the extra mile.  I reached out to my good friend, the Ranking Republican Member of the Finance Committee.  I reached out to the ranking Republican Member of the Health Committee.  We sought to craft a bill that would appeal to the broad middle.  We sought to craft a bill that could win the support of Republicans and Democrats alike.

We met, a group of six of us, three Democrats and three Republicans.  We met more than 30 times.  We met for months.  No, we did not reach a formal agreement.  The Leadership on the other side of the aisle went to great lengths to stop us from doing so.

But even though we did not reach a formal agreement, we came very close to doing so.  The principles that we discussed are very much the principles upon which the Finance Committee built its bill.  The principles that we discussed are very much the principles reflected in the bill before us today.

From the debate that the Senate has conducted this past month, you would not know it.  During this debate, some on the other side of the aisle have mischaracterized the bill before us.  Some on the other side of the aisle have set about a systematic campaign to demonize this bill.  Through bare assertion alone, with the thinnest connection to fact, they have sought to vilify our work.  If one listened to their assertions alone, one would not recognize the bill before us.

And so, let me, quite simply, state the facts.

Some on the other side of the aisle assert that this bill is a Government takeover of health care.  The fact is that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that this bill would reduce the Government’s fiscal role in health care.  Just 3 days ago, CBO wrote, and I quote:“CBO expects that the proposal would generate a reduction in the federal budgetary commitment to health care during the decade following the 10-year budget window.”

Some on the other side of the aisle assert that this bill would add to our Nation’s burden of debt.  The fact is that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that this bill would reduce the deficit by $132 billion in the first 10 years and by between $650 billion and $1.3 trillion in the second 10 years.  The fact is that this is the most serious deficit reduction effort in more than a decade.

Some on the other side of the aisle assert that this bill would harm Medicare.  The fact is that Medicare’s independent Actuary says that this bill would extend the life of Medicare by 9 years.  The fact is that this is the most responsible effort to shore up Medicare in more than a decade.

Some on the other side of the aisle assert that this bill does not do enough to ensure the uninsured.  The fact is that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that this bill would extend access to health care to 31 million Americans who otherwise would have to go without.  The fact is that CBO says, and I quote: “the share of legal nonelderly residents with insurance coverage would rise from about 83 percent currently to about 94 percent.”

Nothing that Senators on the other side of the aisle have proposed would come close.  CBO estimated that the Republican substitute offered in the House of Representatives would have extended coverage to just 3 million people.  The fact is that CBO says of that plan, and I quote: “The share of legal nonelderly residents with insurance coverage in 2019 would be about 83 percent, roughly in line with the current share.”

I would cite the facts about the Republican substitute in the Senate.  But the fact is that there is no Republican substitute.

Some on the other side of the aisle assert that they simply prefer a more modest reform of health care.  The fact is that the Republicans controlled the Senate from 1995 to 2001 and from 2003 to 2006.  The fact is that before they took control, in 1994, 36 million Americans, 15.8 percent of non-elderly Americans were without health insurance coverage.  In the last year of their control, in 2006, nearly 47 million Americans, 17.8 percent of non-elderly Americans were without health insurance coverage.  The legacy of Republican control was 10 million more Americans uninsured.

Some on the other side of the aisle say that we are moving too fast.  The fact is that it was 1912 when former President Theodore Roosevelt first made national health insurance part of the Progressive Party’s campaign platform.  The fact is that people of good will have been working at this for nearly a century.

The fact is, health care reform for America is now within reach.  The fact is, the most serious effort to control health care costs is now within reach.  The fact is, life-saving health care coverage for 31 million Americans is now within reach.

Let us, at long last, grasp that result.  Let us, this time, not let this good thing slip through our hands.  And let us, at long last, enact health care reform for all.”

December 22, 2009 at 11:29 pm Leave a comment

Congratulations America: Healthcare Reform is Moving Forward

The Center for Medicare Advocacy is grateful to those who courageously voted for the Affordable Health Care for America Act, H.R. 3962. This legislation goes a long way towards ensuring for all Americans the peace of mind that was brought to older people and their families with the passage of Medicare in 1965.

Medicare itself is based on the notion of  a shared a public/private undertaking and of pooling resources for the common good.  In Medicare’s case, the common good is that of older people, people with disabilities and their families. The Affordable Health Care for America Act advances the common good to all Americans by expanding access to health care to America’s uninsured and by implementing private market insurance reforms.

Among other things, the legislation passed by the House of Representatives will:

  • Provide affordable health insurance options for those currently without coverage;
  • Provide a Public Insurance option to provide competition with private insurance and keep costs down for individuals and taxpayers;
  • Prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions;
  • Prevent insurance companies from dropping the coverage of those who get sick;
  • Prohibit insurance companies from having life-time limits on benefits;
  • Ensure that insurance companies offer real value for premiums paid;
  • Strengthen Medicare for the more than 44 million older people and people with disabilities who currently use the program and for future generations of beneficiaries;
  • Improve Medicare’s payment to doctors and thus ensure that Medicare beneficiaries can continue, as they do now, to see the doctor of their choice or find a doctor if they need one;
  • Require Medicare, as well as private insurance, to provide preventive benefits without application of cost-sharing;
  • Promote care coordination in Medicare – especially for those with multiple chronic conditions – through various pilot projects;
  • Improve access to Medicare-covered services for low-income beneficiaries by strengthening the programs that serve these individuals;
  • Lower drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries by closing the Medicare Part D “Donut Hole”  coverage gap
  • Lower drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries by allowing the government to negotiate for lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies;
  • Provide benefits to help older people and people with disabilities live in their own homes and communities by establishing the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program.

The Center for Medicare Advocacy applauds  President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and all members of the House of Representatives who have worked so hard to bring this legislation to life.   We urge the Senate to follow suit soon!

November 9, 2009 at 5:13 pm Leave a comment

How Will We Know If Good Enough is Good Enough?

We now have four health care reform bills and a proposal from the Senate Finance Committeee, the last of the Congressional committees with jurisdiction over this topic.   None of the bills are perfect and the Senate Finance Committee’s proposal, lacking both a public option and any Republican support, is the most disappointing.  Still, as Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times, several countries, including Switzerland and the Netherlands, manage to provide health insurance for all largely through the private market

So, how will we know if we should support what emerges as the final health care reform bill?  Here are six key standards to determine whether the final bill is good enough to support – let us know if you have others:

  1. Will the bill make quality health care coverage available to all, especially to the uninsured, underinsured, and those who will fall into these categories in the future?
  2. Will the bill provide real competition in the market place, with or without, a true public plan, so that reform will be reasonably affordable? 
  3. Will the bill provide adequate help for people of low and moderate incomes to purchase good quality health coverage ?
  4. Will the bill preserve and fairly enhance the Medicare program for future generations?
  5. Will the new coverage be adequately comprenhensive, understandable and easy to use?
  6. Will the new law provide a fair, accessible appeal system for people to contest denials?

I am often told not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  We will not get “the perfect” health care plan.  We may not even get “the good”.  But – will we get “the good enough”?  Too soon to tell.

September 18, 2009 at 6:00 pm 1 comment

What Kind of Help is That?

Medicare beneficiaries are fighting back against decades of delays in processing benefits that have caused them to make hard choices between health care and other necessities of life. 

66 year old Narcisa Garcia, a resident of Pennsylvania, lives on $695 a month, just about 75% of the federal poverty rate.  Paying her Medicare Part B premium reduces her tiny income to $599 per month.  Yet Ms. Garcia should not have to pay her Part B premium; she is one of millions of low income Medicare beneficiaries entitled to help from one of the programs that pays for Medicare cost-sharing.  Although she is eligible for benefits from Pennsylvania going back to November 2008, six months later, in April 2009, she is still paying her Part B premium.  Some people may be able afford to float loans to the federal government, but not those living on less than $700 a month.

On April 24th, Ms. Garcia and another Medicare beneficiary, together with two advocacy organizations filed suit against the federal government and the state of Pennsylvania claiming that the harmful and illegal delays in processing enrollments for benefits denied them their rights under federal law. Narcisa Garcia, et al. v. Charles E. Johnson, et al. 2:09-cv-01747 (AB) E.D. Pa. (Complaint filed April 24, 2009). 

The programs to help low-income beneficiaries have existed since the beginning of Medicare and Medicaid, in 1965, but were beefed up in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Medicare cost-sharing increased significantly. For decades, they have suffered from serious delays in processing enrollments that leave people footing their own bills for months or even years after they have been found eligible for the benefits. 

The Center for Medicare Advocacy and the Philadelphia-based Community Legal Services are representing the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to recognize the case as a class action, to declare the government’s practices illegal, to require that benefits are provided promptly, to notify beneficiaries of delays in processing, and to notify beneficiaries that they might be entitled to a refund of back benefits.  They are asking, in other words, that the programs do what they are supposed to do: help people.

April 27, 2009 at 5:38 pm 2 comments

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