Health reform bill an important, historic first step / By Rep. Himes
Health reform bill an important, historic first step
Published 8:07 am, Thursday, November 19, 2009
Last weekend, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the HR 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which will allow us to join every other civilized nation on the planet in offering each of our citizens decent, affordable health care. The House stood against the exploding costs of health care which annually devastate business, non-profit and government budgets. It stood for basic humanity, voting, for example, to prohibit insurance companies from ever cancelling a family's policy because mom gets breast cancer, or a child is diagnosed as autistic.
I was proud to be one of the "yes" votes on this legislation, but my decision was not an easy one. In July, I opposed Speaker Pelosi to argue that the vote on this legislation should be delayed until after the August recess so that we could fully vet its implications with our constituents. Change involving 17 percent of our economy, life and death issues and the most complex policy challenges I've ever seen should not be rushed.
Over the last several months, I have participated in more than 60 town hall meetings, visits with hospitals, doctors, patients and corporations. I have heard from thousands of constituents, read reams of proposed legislation and participated in debates.
The long, intense, sometimes raucous process was worth it. I emerged convinced that to do nothing, as we have done for decades, would be to abdicate our responsibility to the economic, physical and moral health of our nation. I also realized that reform would be neither perfect nor definitive. What President Obama ultimately signs into law will be a historic first step.
Crucially, given the fiscal challenges we face, HR 3962 pays for itself. In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will reduce the budget deficits by $104 billion in the next decade. Help is also on the way for middle class families. MIT professor Jon Gruber estimates that a family with an income of $60,000 will pay $5,000 less per year for health insurance under this bill.
The bill also revises the original proposal by exempting many more small businesses from coverage mandates. Businesses with payrolls less than $500,000 are now exempt, and obligations for employers with payrolls between $500,000 and $750,000 are much reduced. Considering the importance of small businesses to new job creation, this is a major improvement, particularly in high cost areas like Fairfield County.
Importantly, the bill will provide coverage to Americans who currently lack health insurance. As a nation, we will be called on to help those who cannot afford such coverage. The moral and economic arguments for doing so are unimpeachable. Although difficult to quantify, the economic value of millions of Americans living healthier lives, missing fewer days of work and suffering fewer costly diseases will be immense.
It did not escape my notice that in the two days prior to the vote, groups representing Americans from all walks of life endorsed the bill. Consumer Reports, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the AARP, the non-partisan League of Women Voters and the American Cancer Society, among others, urged the Congress to pass HR3962.
Like me, none of these groups supported the bill because it is perfect. They support it because it is a critical step in the right direction. Social Security and Medicare, which have saved millions of elderly Americans from poverty and made the U.S. a world leader in the area of senior health were enormously controversial when passed and continue to pose policy challenges. But almost no one would wish they had never been enacted. So it will be with health reform. It will be refined and improved in years to come and will in time, I believe, become as essential thread in the moral and social fabric of our nation.
Congressman Himes represents Connecticut's Fourth District in the United States House of Representatives.