Friday, January 15, 2010

Hoyer , Health Care and Affordability

By Josh Wright.

Because of how the legislative process has worked, our own Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer can make a significant positive difference in the final healthcare bill and we should push him to follow through for Marylanders and all Americans.

Rep. Hoyer has worked hard to bring us so close to meaningful health care reform. It has been a monumental undertaking in the face of an unproductive and many times disingenuous opposition. However, many Marylanders are deeply concerned that the best aspects of the House work on health care reform will take a back seat to vocal maneuvers of a small minority of recalcitrant conservative Senators. Interestingly Rep. Hoyer is sitting in a strong position of power to influence the final outcome. The democratic leadership has decided to forgo conference committee and instead “ping-pong” the Senate bill over to the House and back again (e.g. vote on the senate bill in the house with some amendments and use managers amendments to modify for any necessary Senate follow-ups votes that are required). Avoiding conference committee was the right decision at this point, because the conservative senators would have used a variety of procedural moves in conference to slow down final passage of healthcare reform. This gives the house leadership a great deal of authority on what amendments to put into and push for in the final bill. As the number two in house leadership Rep. Hoyer can push to make the final bill as progressive as possible.

We all realize that the bill is less than perfect. It could go further to address costs and a public option should be part of the bill. Neither of these seems likely now, however, there is still a good opportunity to push on affordability and numbers of people covered. Health care reform can only succeed if it makes coverage truly affordable for ordinary families who are finding it more and more difficult to get the care they need. Requiring people to buy health insurance that they cannot afford is not a legitimate, feasible, or desirable solution to our health care crisis. The House bill got the affordability balance right and suggest that the final bill expand Medicaid to at least 150% of poverty. Consider the reality that the average family of 3 earning $28,400 (or 155% of poverty) would pay $2100 more in premiums and out-of-pocket costs under the Senate bill than the House bill. The Senate bill would have a serious impact on the quality of life for working people in this country. Without better affordability provisions, people will continue to have to choose between groceries and health care, and thousands of families will continue to go bankrupt because of health care costs. Moreover, the House of Representatives has passed health reform legislation that would cover 36 million people, 96 percent of all legal residents. The House covers five million more people than the Senate. We should urge Rep. Hoyer to support the coverage provisions in the House bill, so that millions of Americans are not left uninsured after the passage of comprehensive health reform.

Recent (November, 2009), tracking polls on health care by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families and Lake Research Partners show that American’s put affordability as a top priority for healthcare reform.

The Kaiser poll found that

· “Making sure affordable health insurance plans are available to the average consumer” was ranked as extremely or very important by 79 percent of respondents (November 2009).

· “Having government provide enough financial help so that as many uninsured people as possible can get health insurance” is ranked as extremely or very important by 65 percent of respondents (November 2009).

· The top concern for 66 percent of voters is “to make health coverage more affordable to families (November 2009)”

Furthermore the Georgetown poll found that if forced to choose, voters think it’s more important to make health care more affordable to families than to worry about overall costs to government: 66% say “make coverage more affordable to families compared to 33% choose “Making sure health reform does not cost the country too much.”

Now more than ever we need Rep. Hoyer to stand up for the people of Maryland and America and make sure that the reform that is passed covers the maximum number of people in the most affordable manner possible.

To find out more about taking action for healthcare reform you can go to

Josh Wright is a Takoma Park City Councilmember and Director of Social Enterprise Programs, at the Campaign for Community Change.