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HEALTH REFORM: Big Day for the House

Today was a big day for the House's health reform efforts.

The AARP, the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network publicly announced their support for the Affordable Health Care For America Act (H.R. 3972) (and, particularly for the doctors, the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act (H.R. 3961) aka the "doc fix.")

Today was the first time that the AARP has put its "full weight behind a comprehensive health reform package," the AARP statement says. "We started this debate more than two years ago with the twin goals of making coverage affordable to our younger members and protecting Medicare for seniors," said AARP CEO Barry Rand. "We've read the Affordable Health Care for America Act and we can say with confidence that it meets those goals with improved benefits for people in Medicare and needed health insurance market reforms to help ensure every American can purchase affordable health coverage."

The AARP maintains that the bill contains several measures that would lead to marked improvements in the health care system for all older Americans and their families:

  • Ensuring seniors can see the doctor of their choice or find a doctor if they need one by improving Medicare's payments to doctors
  • Lowering drug costs for seniors by closing the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole" and allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug makers for lower drug prices
  • Taking steps to reduce waste, fraud, abuse and inefficiency in the Medicare program
  • Requiring Medicare and insurance companies to provide free certain preventive services like screenings for diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis
  • Stopping insurance companies from denying you affordable coverage because of your age
  • Preventing insurance companies from denying you coverage if you have a pre-existing condition or dropping your coverage if you get sick
  • Limiting how much your insurance company can make you pay out-of-pocket
  • Providing affordable health insurance options for those who don't have insurance
  • Providing benefits to help seniors and people with disabilities live in their own homes and communities by establishing the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program

"This is no small endorsement," President Obama stated. He has hope that the AARP's endorsement will encourage seniors to support his Administration's health reform efforts.

The American Medical Association -- whose support for earlier versions of the House legislation gave the reform movement needed momentum a few months ago -- also announced its support for both the health reform and the doctor payment bill. As J. James Rohack, the AMA president, insists, "The time to make  health system reform a reality is now ... compromise is a necessity in the legislative process, but we, as physicians, will never compromise our principles or the public trust."

"That is why we are supporting H.R. 3962 and H.R. 3961 -- two bills that passed together will go a long way toward making health system reform a reality in 2009," he continued.

Michael D. Maves, MD, MBA, in a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, states that the bill effectively addresses the AMA's greatest concerns: expanding coverage, insurance market reforms, patient-physician decision making, investments in quality, prevention, and wellness, repeal of the sustainable growth rate, and the administrative burden.

While the AMA would like the concurrent passage of the two bills, they did not explicitly say they would withdraw support if the pay fix failed to pass. They do, however, warn that "While short-term patches have temporarily averted widespread access problems, they have also grown the size of the problem -- and the cost of reform." Rohak asserted that “this legislation is not perfect, but this debate isn’t over and the work isn’t done."

And finally, the American Cancer Society Action Network expressed its support of health reform today in a letter to the House.

"This legislation represents an exceptional opportunity to advance our mission of reducing suffering and death related to cancer," said cancer society head John R. Seffrin, PhD. "We have the potential to transform our nation's health care system in a fundamental way that begins the process of making adequate and affordable health care accessible to all Americans." For example, the bill would:

  • Eliminate the use of pre-existing medical conditions and health status in determining insurance premium rates, and would limit rating differential to 2:1 on the basis of age, geography, and family size only
  • Guarantee issue and renewal of insurance policies, and the elimination of rescission except in the case of fraud
  • Eliminate annual and lifetime benefit caps
  • Establish a national health insurance exchange to facilitate access and affordability
  • Offer premium subsidies for low- and middle-class people
  • Limit out-of-pocket expenses

Today was full of hope and promise for comprehensive health reform. Let's hope Saturday is even better...