Latest health care reform bill leaves Americans vulnerable to insurance companies: Dennis Kucinich
March 14, 2010, 3:01AM
View full sizeFile photoU.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich
Dennis Kucinich / U.S. Representative
President Barack Obama is in northern Ohio on Monday to campaign for his health care plan, and I will be here to welcome him. I have met with the president three times to discuss how we can work together to address the serious deficiencies in our health care system. Even at this late date, I am hopeful that the White House will be able to reinstate key reforms that passed the Education and Labor Committee on which I serve.
Unfortunately, the president’s plan, as it currently stands, leaves patients financially vulnerable to insurance companies. It requires all Americans to buy private health insurance policies, while failing to ensure those policies do what they are supposed to do — protect people from financial catastrophe caused by injury or illness.
Comprehensive health insurance is a matter of economic security. While many Americans don’t have health insurance at all, many more Americans have health insurance that doesn’t pay for care when they get sick or injured. When that happens, illness can lead to economic ruin. Half the personal bankruptcies in America occur because health insurance companies refuse to pay medical bills.
Unfortunately, if the president’s plan becomes law without substantive change, you would still be only a major illness or injury away from personal bankruptcy, except the federal government will have required you to buy a private health insurance policy.
Over the years, I have held many town hall meetings in the 10th District on health care. I am the co-author of H.R. 676, a bill that would improve Medicare and extend its coverage to those under age 65.
This past year, as reform legislation began to take shape, I led a group of members of Congress to create a set of policies that clarified elements of a suitable compromise. I joined a majority of the 77 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who promised to oppose any legislation that did not include a public option.
When a bill was considered in the Committee on Education and Labor last summer, I worked hard to improve it. I won five separate amendments, each of which improved the bill significantly. A key improvement was my amendment to allow states to implement a single-payer plan, the only model proven to control costs while covering everyone.
The amendment waived the application of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act for any state that signs into law a single-payer health care plan. My budget-neutral amendment was passed by a bipartisan vote of 27-19. The promise of single-payer health care reform in the states constituted a safety net, if the underlying bill otherwise failed to control costs.
I voted for this version of the health care bill, and it passed in committee. It was a compromise, but a reasonable one. However, the version of the bill that reached the House floor was considerably watered down. It had a severely weakened public option and the employee-retirement waiver had been stripped. It no longer constituted an incremental step forward that would provide relief to my constituents, so I could not support it. The version of the bill that passed the Senate was even worse.
Absent a strong public option or legal protection for states that wish to pursue single payer, the bill that the president is proposing is a step in the wrong direction. Even with the few modest improvements in the bill, the insurance companies will still have dozens of loopholes to deny care and continue to find ways to leave Americans with the unpayable bill.