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National Health Reform Update – 12/20/09

Saturday morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced an amended health reform bill that now has support from 60 Senators. This overcomes one of the most difficult hurdles on the road to comprehensive health reform.

Please read below:
* ABOUT THE REVISED SENATE HEALTH REFORM BILL
* NEXT STEPS IN THE SENATE’S HEALTH REFORM PROCESS
* TAKE ACTION
* WHY CCHCC IS URGING SUPPORT FOR THE PASSAGE OF THIS BILL

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ABOUT THE REVISED SENATE HEALTH REFORM BILL:
The revised bill has much tougher regulation of insurance industry practices, better consumer protections and stronger controls on long-term health care costs than the original Senate bill.  It also includes a two-year extension in funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program; $10 billion in additional funding for safety net health clinics; expanded tax credits for small business; and new language designed to prevent federal funding of abortion.

The new version of the bill does NOT include improvements in affordability for lower-income families, and that remains a fundamental problem that will need to be fixed when the Senate legislation is sent over to the House.

While we are still looking at the details of the bill, we wanted to share four new consumer protections included in the revised legislation:

     * A requirement that insurers spend 85 cents out of every dollars they receive in premiums on health care rather than profits and administrative costs. If not, people would receive rebates from their insurance companies for the difference.

     * A complete ban on lifetime and annual limits on benefits.

     * The right to an independent appeal of any decision by an insurer to deny coverage.

     * People receiving subsidies to buy insurance will be able to choose from national plans, including at least one non-profit plan, that are supervised by the same department of the federal government that selects health insurance plans for federal employees.

The new Senate bill does not provide for a public option to compete with private insurance plans, which may disappoint some people; however, the importance of the private insurance regulations contained in the bill should not be overlooked. Most Americans will continue to get their health coverage from private insurance companies, and these companies must be regulated. The Senate bill would extend health coverage to 31 million Americans who are currently uninsured.

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NEXT STEPS IN THE SENATE’S HEALTH REFORM PROCESS:
We anticipate the following schedule for votes in the U.S. Senate:

     * Monday: 1 a.m. first cloture vote (60 votes) to pass the Manager’s Amendment. Cloture is the procedure that allows senators to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matters, and thereby overcome a filibuster.

     * Tuesday: 7 a.m. second cloture vote (60 votes) to substitute the placeholder bill with the Senate Patient Affordability and Protection Act.

     * Wednesday: 1 p.m. third cloture vote (60 votes) to stop debate of the bill and move to a vote for passage.

     * Thursday (Christmas Eve): 7 p.m. vote for final passage (simple majority).

Once the Senate bill passes, it has to go to a conference committee.
After the conference committee merges the House bill and the Senate bill, then that bill will go back to the House and the Senate for the final vote.

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TAKE ACTION:
The news media is going to be filled with articles, both pro and con, on health insurance reform. Those who oppose reform will be numerous. We have to be just as active.

Your members of Congress still need to hear from you and need to hear that we want the health reform bill to move forward.

You can reach Senators Durbin and Burris at:
Sen. Durbin:  (202) 224-2152 – Washington; (217) 492-4062 – Springfield Sen. Burris: (202) 224-2854 – Washington; (217) 492-5089 – Springfield

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WHY CCHCC IS URGING SUPPORT FOR THE PASSAGE OF THIS BILL:
1. If the Senate bill fails, then reform will be dead and it will be many years before reform will have another chance for passage. From our day-to-day work, helping uninsured and underinsured people, we see that we do not have the luxury of doing nothing. We see lives ravaged every single day because people do not have health care coverage. We MUST move this process forward. Also, we know that REAL health reform will not happen in our country now as the result of one bill. We will have to work for years to come to win the changes we need. But we can’t wait for one perfect bill; every improvement we win will make concrete improvements in people lives and we have to start somewhere (with this bill), and be committed to a long-term struggle that will finally bring us to the REAL reform our nation needs. We are in this for the long haul, and this is the first step!

2. The Senate bill contains many good reforms, including important regulations to private health insurance plans. While a public plan is important, but is excluded from this bill, the reality is that until we achieve single-payer health insurance, most Americans will continue to get their health care coverage from private companies, and it is the lack of regulation of private health insurance that has allowed the most harmful and unacceptable practices to become commonplace — practices like gender rating, premiums caps, discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, recission and so on. These are the practices that make health insurance coverage like an umbrella that melts in the rain! These are the practices that leave consumers with insurmountable medical debt and lead to bankruptcy. *If we do nothing else, we MUST get these regulations passed!*

3. Without reform, access to affordable and quality health insurance will get much worse. Without reform, insurance companies will continue the abhorrent practices that lead to rate increases that make it increasingly impossible for small businesses and non-profits to provide health coverage to employees, and more and more people will become uninsured. Without reform, our Consumer Health Hotline will continue to see an increase in the number of individuals and families turning to us, desperate for health care, getting sicker, and sometimes dying just because they didn’t have health insurance to guarantee access to needed health care. We can’t take it anymore!

CCHCC is joining with other groups around the nation who have already begun working to make sure that the House protections for lower-income families are included in the final legislation.  We need to make sure that premiums and out-of-pocket costs are set at levels that all families can afford if we want reform to succeed.  This will be a hard fight, but critical to the success of health reform.

Thank you for your activism and for your support!

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