Opinion

Health reform needs to happen, the status quo is unacceptable

Health reform needs to happen. The status quo is unacceptable. Business as usual is unacceptable for small business owners who cannot afford coverage for their employees. The status quo does not work for families who are worried about their jobs and sky-high health costs. The current system must be reformed for taxpayers who have seen health care costs explode the federal budget deficit. Discrimination must stop for my constituents who are denied coverage, or charged through the roof, because of their age or gender, or because they have a preexisting condition such as diabetes or cancer.

We need health care reform. Congress has made progress toward that goal: In February, the Children’s Health Insurance Program bill, or CHIP, was signed into law by President Obama to expand health care coverage to 11 million children across the country including nearly 3,400 kids in the 2nd Congressional District. As part of the Recovery Act, we invested in electronic medical records to reduce medical errors and improve the quality of care.

More action is needed. Since 2001, health care premiums have grown four times faster than wages. In my district, 104,000 people don’t have health insurance. Many of our neighbors are just a pink slip away from joining the ranks for the uninsured. Those who do have coverage are struggling with the high cost of care.

In the past months, I have hosted town halls and meetings across Snohomish County and Northwest Washington to hear from my constituents on health care, and I have worked in Congress to get reform that works for our community. I support the following principles for health insurance reform:

• Ban discrimination for pre-existing conditions, age and gender;

• Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken. If people have insurance and doctors they like, they should be able to keep them;

• Eliminate fraud, waste and abuse in government health programs;

• Invest in prevention and pay for quality of care, not quantity of tests;

• And get reform that works for Washington state.

The last point has been the source of some confusion. Under the status quo, Washington state is penalized for providing higher-quality, lower-cost care. Local Medicare reimbursement rates are so low that many local doctors do not accept patients on Medicare. This problem makes it harder for local seniors to get the care they need. It must be fixed.

But under the original health care reform bill introduced in the House, this problem was not fixed. In fact, it was expanded. The same unfair, wasteful reimbursement policies would have been expanded from Medicare to the public insurance option and the local patients it would cover. What good is an insurance card if you can’t find a doctor who will treat you?

That is why I have worked with Members of Congress from 16 states and the White House to improve the bill and get health reform that works for our state. I have pushed to get a fair deal and change the way health care is delivered to reward “value not volume” — value for the patient, not volume of tests or procedures.

Working with my colleagues from Washington and other states, we secured a deal with House leadership to help bring fairness for Washington state and greater access to care for local seniors. The agreement calls to reform Medicare payments, reward high-quality, cost-efficient care and remedy geographic disparities that hurt access to care for local patients.

Where are we now? Three House committees have passed their own versions of the health reform bill. Congressional leaders will combine these bills to decide on final legislation. A final vote is planned in September, and I will read the final bill carefully before I cast my vote.

Congress is on the cusp of reforming health care to bring down costs, expand coverage and ban discrimination. Reforming health care will bring stability for working families. It will mean that my constituents will not have to worry about losing coverage or going bankrupt from medical bills they cannot afford. And as we head toward a final vote here in the House, I will keep working to ensure that health reform brings a fair deal for Washington state.

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