Opinion: House Bill must go further to ensure universal coverage

The whole country was watching last week as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the House’s combined health care reform bill, declaring that lawmakers were “on the cusp of delivering on the promise of making affordable, quality health insurance available to every American.” When we consider the contents of the bill, however, it’s doubtful that the proposed bill will actually live up to Pelosi’s claims – too many Americans will remain uncovered. The plan laid out in the bill does include the much-contested “public option,” which has been heralded as a strategy to keep both private and public insurance choices affordable. Nevertheless, the version of the public option included in the bill is much weaker than the version originally being suggested by advocates for universal health coverage. This watered-down version does not fix reimbursement rates at Medicare levels, which will allow these rates to be tied to those of the large insurance corporations, which are on the rise. Without a more robust public option, costs will continue to rise, federal subsidies will most likely not be able to keep pace, and many American families will still end up struggling to pay for health insurance.

What our country needs is a plan that will be truly accessible to all people in this country and that will help control costs. A “Medicare for all”-type system would provide universal coverage and will keep costs down by eliminating excess administrative costs and by preventing serious illness and hospital stays through more accessible preventive care. A public option that sets reimbursement rates at Medicare levels gets us closer to this model, and actually has been shown by the Congressional Budget Office to save more money than the less robust public option. House leadership must vigorously fight to improve the current health insurance reform bill – to allow for a floor vote on Representative Anthony Weiner’s “Medicare for all” (a.k.a. single-payer) amendment and to advocate for fixing reimbursement rates at Medicare pricing – before they can claim to have delivered on the promise of accessible health coverage for all.

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