Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich today urged Senate Finance Committee Democrats to condemn false “bipartisanship” standing in the way of President Obama’s overhaul to the nation’s health care system. Reich said Democrats must support a public health insurance option because it’s the best way to control costs, citing evidence in a new report released today by the Health Care for America Now coalition.
With health care costs skyrocketing, the report shows that the number of Americans in families with problems paying medical bills climbed to 57 million, or one in five, up from one in seven in 2003. Millions of these people have health insurance but are forced to go without essential care. Further, the lack of health insurance coverage causes 22,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
“It’s time to forget the Republicans and to insist on a real public health insurance option,” said Reich. “The public health insurance option is the linchpin of quality, affordable health care for all. And it can pass with a majority vote, which is possible if we give up on trying to persuade a handful of Republicans to cross over.”
Reich made the remarks today on a conference call with reporters organized by the Campaign for America’s Future. Health care expert Jacob Hacker joined Reich on the call, previewing his testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee, one of the three key committees writing health reform legislation.
“A public health insurance option — combined with drug-price competition and a requirement that businesses insure employees or contribute to the cost of their coverage – is the best way to reduce the overall cost of health reform and make coverage more affordable,” said Hacker.
Hacker also highlighted a series of public opinion polls conducted this month by the Kaiser Foundation, Employee Benefit Research Institute, NBC/Wall Street Journal and CBS/New York Times that shows broad public support for a public health insurance option. About three-quarters of people polled favor creating a public option to compete with private health insurance plans.
Hacker said that the cost of health care reform proposals would drop substantially if they included the public insurance option. He also explained why state or regional health insurance cooperatives will not control costs.
Campaign for America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey joined Reich and Hacker on the call. Hickey emphasized the Health Care for America Now report that shows that the nation is suffering from a “growing crisis of health care unaffordability,” underscoring the need for real reforms. The report documents how health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs are increasing much faster than wages, ranking the 50 states by the impact of these trends.
“Americans are paying more and more for health insurance — and getting less and less coverage for themselves and their families,” said Hickey. “Skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket costs are threatening our standard of living and hurting our competitiveness around the world.”
The HCAN report shows that the cost of health insurance has risen 120 percent while wages grew only 29 percent from 1999 to 2007. Health insurance premiums have risen so high that experts forecast 52 million Americans will be uninsured next year.
Employees have seen their health insurance copayments and deductibles climb by 40 percent since 2004. The value of employer-based health benefits declined, forcing families to spend more of their own money on care. At the same time, health insurers resorted to saving money by limiting benefits, causing 45 percent of Americans to say they are “very” worried about having to spend more on health insurance premiums and medical costs.
On Thursday, these and other health care concerns will draw thousands of people from across the country to the nation’s capital for a large rally and day-long lobbying activities aimed at achieving quality, affordable health care this year for everyone in America. The rally will be held at 11:30 a.m. in Upper Senate Park.
The rally and lobbying activities are part of HCAN’s national grassroots campaign for health care reform. Its principles for reform, which are backed by President Obama and more than 190 members of Congress, include the creation of a strong public health insurance option to give people the choice on whether to keep their current private insurance plan or join a new public health insurance plan that would serve as a guaranteed backup for providing quality, affordable health care no matter what.
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**NOTE: An electronic copy of the Health Care for America Now report and state-specific data are available at http://www.ourfuture.org/affordability. **