Don’t let myth, distortion crush health care reform

In 2008, President Obama and Democrats throughout the country campaigned on a promise to fix our broken health care system and provide all Americans with the same affordable, quality health care that federal employees, including members of Congress, have. For more than a year, Congress has been working to fulfill that promise. For months, Louisianians have heard the poll-tested one-liners, false claims and disingenuous rhetoric from opponents of this effort. But with 180 Louisianians losing their health insurance each day and thousands more unable to pay for higher and higher premiums, it is time to put the health and economic livelihood of our families first.

Some lawmakers would have Louisianians believe that scrapping a year of hard work and starting over is a way forward. It is not. Now is not the time to quit or start over. Now is the time to finish the job and do what is right for Louisianians.

Much like the Senate bill, which I supported, the current proposal increases affordable health insurance choices in the private market and expands coverage to 894,000 people in Louisiana who do not have it today.

And despite claims to the contrary, this proposal already contains more than a dozen Republican-sponsored ideas, including tort reform pilot projects and the ability to sell insurance across state lines.

Opponents claim this bill weakens Medicare. The truth is that by eliminating fraud, waste and abuse and streamlining services, Medicare is strengthened and the life of the trust fund is extended by nine years.

Under this bill, 116,000 senior citizens in Louisiana would no longer have to pay an additional $4,080 per year for Medicare Part D coverage, and all 653,000 Louisiana senior citizens would receive free preventive services through Medicare.

Another myth conjured up by our opponents is that the bill is a Washington takeover of health care. This is flat out not true. The compromise proposal does not include a government-run option that was part of an earlier bill proposed in the House of Representatives.

Instead, 894,000 Louisianians who do not have insurance and 214,000 Louisianians who have non-group insurance would have access to more affordable private insurance through an insurance exchange set up by the state of Louisiana. In addition, 558,000 Louisianians in households making about $88,000 or lower could qualify for a tax credit to help them purchase this new coverage.

Some Republican leaders want Americans to believe health care reform will cost their families and state governments more than the status quo. The opposite is true.

The fact is that today all Americans are paying a hidden tax totaling $56 billion a year to care for the uninsured. Instead of paying a small amount to insure our citizens before they get sick, we pay where it is most expensive – in the emergency room.

Right now, hospitals and doctors in Louisiana lose $1.3 billion caring for the uninsured each year. And Louisiana’s economy lost as much as $3.9 billion in 2007 alone because of the poor health and shorter lifespan of our citizens.

When Congress passes health care reform, the state will offer Medicaid for all families with a household income of up to $30,000 a year. But the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs for citizens newly enrolled in Medicaid from 2014 to 2017.

The federal government will provide 95 percent support for 2018 and 2019, and 90 percent for 2020 and beyond. This will, hopefully, prevent the budget cuts to health care and higher education the state is currently forced to undertake almost annually under our current system.

Finally, the bill is not only paid for, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would reduce the deficit by $100 billion over the first 10 years and $1 trillion over the next 10.

Plus, the final proposal would not impose an employer mandate on small businesses, and more than 50,000 Louisiana small businesses could be helped by a small business tax credit starting immediately to make premiums more affordable.

Reasonable people can disagree about the best way to fix our health care system. But any debate about the bill should be based on facts. The cost of doing nothing is too great, and there are too many people in Louisiana depending on health care reform to have this effort crushed by myth and distortion.

Sen. Mary Landrieu is from New Orleans and represents Louisiana in Washington, D.C.