When it comes to extending health care to everyone in the country, Congress made more progress in the past week than we've seen in the last 60 years. But it's that progress that stirs up the opponents of health care reform.
Just last week Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., told one group, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."
We can't let that happen. We can't lose this chance to fix our broken health care system.
We at Health Care for America NOW (HCAN), a national coalition with 35 million members, are watching closely as health care legislation makes its way through Congress.
Committees in both the Senate and the House have produced comprehensive bills. Oregon's Sen. Jeff Merkley made sure that the bill passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has a strong national public health insurance option and makes health care more affordable to small businesses and their employees.
Two House committees passed HR 3200, America's Health Care Choices Act, last week. We expect the full House to vote on that measure before their August recess.
HCAN believes that HR 3200 is a model for comprehensive health care reform. This bill would provide quality, affordable health care to 97 percent of our population. And, contrary to reports that HR 3200 would add to the our national debt, the July 21 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found that it will produce a $6 billion surplus over a 10-year period.
Under HB 3200, we would have:
- affordable insurance regardless of whether we're covered by an employer, self-employed or unemployed;
- preventive care as well as treatment for serious conditions;
- an end to uninsurable pre-existing conditions and high-cost premiums based on health status.
Revenue to pay for these improvements would come from the savings generated by a reformed health care system, plus a surcharge on taxes paid by the wealthiest 1.5 percent of Americans.
The American Medical Association and the American Association of Retired Persons have joined HCAN in endorsing HB 3200. To read the bill for yourself, go to www.speaker.gov/newsroom/legislation?id=0327.
But it's not a done deal. We still have a long way to go, and opponents will try to diminish or defeat reform at every step. The Senate Finance Committee must complete its deliberations. Both houses of Congress will have to pass legislation. A conference committee must reconcile the House and Senate versions, and the two chambers will need to adopt the final bill before it can be signed into law by President Obama.
Still, we've never been as close to real health equity in this country as we are today. Many of us have worked for decades to create this opening. And make no mistake, it'll take all of us pushing as hard as we can to reach the goal of quality, affordable health care for everyone.
So join us. Get involved. Let your Congressional representatives know that you want a just, equitable health care system.
If not now, when? If not us, who?
Julie Imhof is a nurse and volunteer with the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance. Estelle Womack is a retired elementary school principal and past president of the Southern Oregon chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Health Care for America NOW, the Jackson County Democratic Party and Oregon Action will hold a public meeting to celebrate the Oregon health care legislation and discuss the next steps in Oregon and in the national campaign. Join State Sen. Alan Bates and Maribeth Healey, deputy director for Sen. Jeff Merkley, on Thursday, July 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the Medford Library.