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House Bill is Major Step Forward for Reform

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Support Health Care for America NowComprehensive reform improves quality, increases access while reducing costs

On Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives released it's draft health care reform legislation, the America's Affordable Health Choices Act (PDF). The House's final draft includes a strong public option, would require corporations to play or pay, and would cover 97% of Americans.

Significantly, the bill does not tax our employer-provided (and hard fought, union-negotiated) health care benefits.

Read our press release about the historic action taken yesterday by the House of Representatives and thanking Representatives Butterfield and Etheridge for their leadership on this issue.

The House bill is deficit neutral, paid for entirely by ringing significant cost savings from Medicare and Medicaid and a modest tax surcharge on the very wealthiest, top 1.2% of income earners.

That's a point worth repeating - for 98.8% of Americans, comprehensive health care reform under the House plan would cost nothing, nada, zero. From the AP:

House Democrats said the income tax increase in their bill would apply only to the top 1.2 percent of households, those who earn about one-quarter of all income. The wealthiest 4 percent of small business owners would be among them. The tax would start at 1 percent for couples making $350,000 and individuals earning $280,000, ramp up to 1.5 percent above $500,000 of income, and jump to 5.4 percent for those earning above $1 million. The tax would raise an estimated $544 billion over 10 years.

AMA endorses House health care reform bill

Few organizations have had as much clout in the debate over if and how to reform our nation's broken health care system as the American Medical Association. The AMA opposed the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s and was a key architect of the successful effort to kill health care reform in the 1990s.

On Thursday, the AMA dramatically reversed course, sending a letter (PDF) to House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) clearly and unequivocally endorsing the America's Affordable Health Choices Act:

"On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association, I am writing to express our appreciation and support for H.R. 3200, the "America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009." This legislation includes a broad range of provisions that are key to effective, comprehensive health system reform. We urge members of the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means Committees to favorably report H.R. 3200 for consideration by the full House."

Just how big a deal is the AMA's decision to endorse the House reform bill? "It's a pretty big deal," says Jonathan Cohn who covers health care for The New Republic:

"This is unexpected. Or, at least, I wasn't expecting it. Recent signals from the AMA suggested they were reluctant to embrace reform, in no small part because they believed a public insurance option would underpay them. But the AMA letter contains no caveats. It is a straightforward endorsement.

"And that makes it a pretty big deal. No, the AMA is not as powerful, nor as representative of the medical community, as it once was. But an unqualified endorsement for the most liberal plan out there has large symbolic value, given the role AMA played in killing health care reform for most of the 20th Century."

Get ready for the smear & fear campaign

Opponents of health care reform will try to spin the funding proposals in the House bill as a broad tax hike on the American people. Already, Newt Gingrich is on Twitter claiming - disingenuously - taxes will go up on "virtually everyone" to pay for reform. Since when does "virtually everyone" make as a couple more than $350,000 a year?

President Obama on the fear-factor:

And we have a long history in America of scaring people that they're going to lose their doctor, they're going to lose their health care plans, they're going to be stuck with some bureaucratic government system that's not responsive to their needs.

And overcoming that fear -- fear that is often actively promoted by special interests who profit from the existing system -- is a challenge….My biggest job is to explain to the American people why this is so important and give them confidence that we can do better than we're doing right now.

Health care status quo is unsustainable for working families, nation

Without a significant shake-up of the private health insurance industry, costs will continue to soar. The industry has no incentive to control costs. History tells us industry promises to do so in response to past efforts at reform have not been kept. Increasing premiums and denying care is how private insurance companies maintain their profit margin.

The health care status quo is costing you real money. How many of our readers have had to forgo in contract negotiations serious wage increases because they're instead fighting to keep down health care premiums?

Our country as a whole is making a similar trade-off, spending almost twice what other developed nations do on health care, at the expense of investments in other critical priorities like clean energy, public education, and transportation.

Health care costs are currently 18% of GDP. If nothing is done to lower costs, we as a nation are expected to spend 34% of GDP on health care alone by 2040. That is unsustainable. Reform that brings costs down with a public plan that provides real choices and real competition for private insurance from day one is the only way to bring this problem under control. The cost of doing nothing is a price we cannot bear.

Call your U.S. Representative, urge him/her to support this plan

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Labor calls on House Members to pass the "Tri-Committee" Health Care Reform Bill this month. It meets President Obama's test, and labor's test, for comprehensive, progressive legislation.

Now that we have a plan, it is up to show the Congress there is broad support for this bill and comprehensive reform.

Use the box above to find your elected officials and their contact information, including for both Washington, DC and district offices. Tell them:

  • A public health insurance plan would make reform work. It would bring down costs and guarantee quality affordable health care for all.
  • Employers would be required to pay their fair share. Doing so will prevent employers from dumping their workers into the new subsidized plans.
  • Pre-Medicare retirees would be able to maintain their coverage because of cost relief.
  • The costs of health reform would be borne by those who can afford it, not by taxing health benefits of hard-working families. The House bill includes a small surtax on the wealthiest 1.2% of Americans.