2009-08-28 / Columnists

Meeks' Message From Capitol Hill

Health Care Reform: It's the Right Thing to Do
Commentary From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MEEKS GREGORY MEEKS An enflamed debate about reforming America's health care system continues to rage across the country. Tempers have flared at town hall meetings in several states and congressional districts as people who are angry, upset, and ill-informed about things that are not in the versions of America's Affordable Health Choices Act adopted by the Ways and Means, the Energy and Commerce, or the Education and Labor Committees of the House of Representatives, or the measure adopted by Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The Senate Finance Committee, the only other Senate committee with jurisdiction over health care, hasn't even acted on specific legislation.

By their own admission, most congressional Republicans see a chance to damage, maybe even destroy, Barack Obama's presidency even if it means damaging or destroying the possibility of reforming our costly and inequitable health care system. With 47 million uninsured Americans and millions more who do have health insurance but cannot afford prescriptions or copayments for doctors' visits, I don't know how those who practice these cynical tactics can look at themselves in the mirror each morning, let alone perpetuate outlandish mischaracterizations of what the president and congressional Democrats are actually proposing.

The fact that there isn't a House bill or a Senate bill puts Democratic members of Congress at a distinct disadvantage during the August recess. We've had to argue concepts of health care reform legislation instead of debate specific legislative language. This will change when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day. The House and Senate are certain to pass their respective versions of health reform.

Reaching this point in the legislative process is what most, if not all, House and Senate Republicans and other opponents of health care reform want to prevent at all costs. Because then a House-Senate conference committee will be set up to resolve the differences between the two bills. It will be a tough, but fairly short step from there to coming up with a compromise measure simple majorities in both houses can support, which will enable Congress to send President Obama a bill he can then sign into law.

I am actively involved in the debate inside and outside of Congress. I have been making my preferences and concerns known to the House leadership, to the chairs of the committees with jurisdiction over health care, to the Administration, and to my constituents. I regularly consult with health care providers and professionals here in the Sixth Congressional District. I held a town hall meeting at York College earlier this week attended by over 700 people. I've also taken part in a number of radio and television programs on the subject.

While I'm eager to hear all points of view, at the end of the day whether to vote "yea" or "nay" will be my decision alone. Members of Congress usually take three considerations into account when they face a difficult vote: 1) on balance, is the legislation good for America; 2) on balance, is it good for my district; 3) is it the right thing to do?

Ending the situation in which 47 million Americans go without health insurance is good for America. Improving accessibility and affordably is good for American families. Not losing one's health insurance if one loses or changes one's job is good for American workers. Lowering health care costs from double digit annual increases to low single digit growth is good for the wellbeing of Americans, the competitiveness of American businesses, and the fiscal stability of America's governments.

If a bill similar to America's Affordable Health Choices Act is enacted, up to 12,000 small businesses here in the Sixth Congressional District with 25 or fewer employees who earn less than $40,000 a year would qualify for tax credits covering up to 50 percent of the costs of providing health insurance.

More than 6,400 seniors in the district would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D that forces them to pay the full cost of their prescriptions. (The legislation the House will be considering will cut brand name drug costs in half for Medicare beneficiaries, and ultimately eliminate the donut hole altogether.)

Last year, unaffordable health care costs forced 620 Sixth Congressional District families into bankruptcy. The reforms the Administration and congressional Democrats envision not only cover almost every American, but also cap annual out-of-pocket costs at $10,000 per year per family. This will ensure that most families will never endure financial ruin because of high health care costs.

The America's Affordable Health Choices Act would give 67,000 of the 87,000 of my constituents who were uninsured in 2008 access to high-quality, affordable health insurance.

These things are good for my district.

I will vote for any bill that provides these kinds of benefits, protects Medicare, covers the uninsured, lowers overall health care costs, leaves health care decisions up to patients and their doctors, prioritizes prevention, makes use of technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness, wrings costly inefficiencies and waste out of the system without reducing service or benefits, and enhances quality of service by enhancing competition via a robust public option as one of many options. At the end of the day this kind of reform is the right thing to do for my district and my country.

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