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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Overhaul facing heavy resistance

Like the rest of the country, Houston’s health care town halls are filled with contentious debates on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul plan.

More than 100 people attended a town hall health care meeting at Fifth Ward’s J. W. Senior Center, held by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who endorses the plan.

At issue was HR 3200, which would ‘provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending, and for other purposes.’

Jackson Lee briefly espoused the benefits of the federal Medicare program, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

‘There has been an exponential increase in longevity,’ Jackson Lee said.

The congresswoman focused on prepared materials, saying America’s Affordable Health Choices Act would provide significant benefits to 14,600 small businesses, 5,300 seniors and 480 families.

‘Under the legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less and average wages of less than $40,000 qualify for tax credits of up to 50 percent of the costs of providing health insurance,’ Jackson Lee said.

In addition, seniors who are susceptible to the coverage gap under Medicare Part D would see immediate relief, Jackson said.

‘There were 480 health care-related bankruptcies in the district in 2008, caused primarily by the health care costs not covered by insurance,’ Jackson Lee said. ‘The bill provides insurance for almost every American and caps annual out-of-pocket costs.’

Lee said there are 205,000 uninsured individuals in the district, and the bill would provide health care coverage for 90 percent of them.

Although the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation initially determined that the bill would increase the federal budget deficit over a period of ten years, proponents of the bill say that it is ‘deficit neutral.’

‘The cost of health care reform under the legislation is fully paid for,’ Jackson Lee said. ‘Half through making the Medicare and Medicaid program more efficient and half through a surtax on the income of wealthiest individuals.’

One of Jackson’s main reasons for support is the ‘pre-existing condition’ stipulation in the bill, providing health care seekers with full medical coverage when they have previously been diagnosed with an ailment.

The congresswoman cited a woman who had suffered from acne, but was denied health care coverage for aggressive breast cancer because the insurance company claimed her acne qualified as a ‘pre-existing’ condition.

Those attending the town hall meeting asked a variety of questions, with many showing support for the overhaul and many opposed to its future implications. Most of the attendees in favor of the plan were seniors, as Jackson Lee said the bill would not reduce their Medicare coverage.

Others, such as Houstonian Tim Graney, who independently purchases health coverage from a private insurer, wanted to know why they would eventually be forced into a government-controlled health system.

But Graney is not sure if Jackson’s response is accurate.

‘My current health plan would go away, contrary to what the President said in New Hampshire – ‘If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” Graney said.

Graney’s medical insurance plan would not be considered an ‘Essential Benefits Package’ as defined in Section 122 of the bill. Instead, it would fall under Section 102(a) and would therefore be limited on new enrollments.

Lacking new enrollments, the insurer would eventually go out of business and Graney’s plan would cease to exist in time, Graney said.
This concern is one Obama and sponsors of the overhaul have attempted to dispel.

‘Let me also address an illegitimate concern that is being put forward by those who are claiming that a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single-payer system,’ Obama said at an American Medical Association conference in June. ‘So, when you hear the naysayers claim that I’m trying to bring about government-run health care, know this – they are not telling the truth.’

Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., a sponsor of the bill, said in an interview in July with, a news commentary website, ‘I think if we get a good public option, it could lead to single-payer, and that’s the best way to reach single-payer.’

When asked what percentage of her constituency opposed to HR 3200 would it require for her to vote against the bill, Jackson Lee expressed the need to meet with more citizens.

‘I don’t know the number. But I’m home here now to go around to as many places as I possibly can,’ Jackson Lee said. ‘I’d like to base it on an informed public. And so I’m hoping that after we finish, I will get a sense of how deeply intent the opposition is on what the bill actually does.’

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