Rep. Mike Thompson is in town for his big heath care confab. For another glimpse of his perspective on the issue, we offer this letter sent in response to an email from a constituant:
I have a keen interest in healthcare, both as an individual and as a public servant. My wife Jan is a full-time nurse practitioner in our district and was a hospice nurse for years. I've had government sponsored healthcare in the Army - both here and overseas - and private healthcare with Kaiser Permanente and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Over the years, as a State Senator and U.S. Representative, I've talked with thousands of Northern Californians at length about the times when healthcare has been a blessing and, unfortunately, when it's failed them.
I first ran for office in 1990, and a big part of that decision was because of the challenges of healthcare policy and its importance. This issue has remained in the forefront of my attention ever since. In the State Senate, I passed legislation that required all group healthcare plans to provide preventive healthcare to children, improved healthcare policies in rural areas and supported the development of telemedicine. Since arriving in the House of Representatives, I continued this work by enacting legislation that waives co-pays for colonoscopies and mammograms for Medicare beneficiaries, helps doctors who are called away to service in the reserves or the National Guard, expands telehealth technology, reverses harmful cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians, promotes funding for rural clinics and addresses unfair geographic reimbursement policies that consistently underpay providers in our district.
Unfortunately, many problems like rising premiums, shortages of skilled healthcare workers and a deteriorating long-term fiscal outlook for programs like Medicare have grown worse. These issues are far larger, more complex and more pervasive than almost any others our nation faces. It is no surprise that they have also drawn the most passionate responses.
Some argue that any type of reform would lead to socialism, but the majority of constituents I've heard from want Congress to lower costs, provide access for everyone and improve the quality of care. Most opinions are heartfelt, but a few are startling, such as the writers who want to reject any government involvement in healthcare because it's "socialist" while they themselves are receiving healthcare through Medicare or the Veterans Administration. However, almost every person I talk to or hear from agrees - the current healthcare system needs to be fixed.
While I am a strong proponent of healthcare reform, we need to make sure that we do this right. As you no doubt know, our current healthcare system is not sustainable. In the last 15 years, healthcare spending has jumped 145% to over $2.24 trillion. This is the equivalence of one in every $6 we earn going for healthcare. At current rates, within a decade that figure is expected to rise to one in $5, and within 30 years it will be one out of every $3. Right now, this system is failing us all; from those who can't get insurance because of a pre-existing condition to the families that have coverage but are finding it harder and harder to afford their rising premiums and deductibles. We are on an unsustainable path and most Americans want this corrected.
The House of Representatives is now considering the America's Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200), which presents comprehensive solutions to the healthcare challenges faced by all Americans. This bill includes many of my priorities, such as:
o Better healthcare for everyone by requiring all plans to meet minimum benefits standards, prohibiting denials of coverage based on pre-existing conditions and eliminating co-payments for preventive care visits to a doctor;
o Strengthening Medicare by increasing reimbursement rates for Medicare providers to allow them to continue seeing Medicare patients and closing the "donut" hole in prescription coverage for Medicare Part D;
o Real choice in a health insurance marketplace where consumers can compare different plans, including a public plan option, while still retaining the freedom to keep their current doctor, hospital and plan if they choose;
o Ensuring access to healthcare in rural areas by providing a reimbursement increase to primary care physicians practicing in these communities and expanding telemedicine services to make specialized care available for patients in underserved areas.
As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, I helped write parts of this bill, and I know that there is a lot in the bill that will go far toward improving our system. Although the full House of Representatives will not consider H.R. 3200 until September, I voted for this important legislation when it was considered by the Ways and Means Committee on July 17. We needed to advance this bill so that we can continue the work of crafting a comprehensive plan that will fix our healthcare system.
However, it is important to remember that this is the beginning of the process, and there is much work that remains to be done in both houses of Congress before we will reach a final bill. Nevertheless, there is wide agreement that the final version must satisfy these principles:
o Reduce the long-term growth of healthcare costs;
o Provide a choice of doctors and health plans;
o Improve quality of care and invest in prevention and wellness; and,
o Ensure affordable healthcare for all Americans.
Currently there are five bills in Congress to reform healthcare, three in the House and two in the Senate. From these, members of the House and Senate will reconcile differences, make improvements and come up with an even better bill. I think we have a long way to go before we are where we need to be, but H.R. 3200 is an important first step.
Healthcare touches all of our lives in a very personal way. I absolutely understand why so many Americans are concerned about the effectiveness and cost of healthcare. That's why it's so important that you judge the facts of this bill for yourself, particularly when there's been much disinformation. I have attached answers to the most common questions my office has been receiving for your review. Additionally, you can go to the Ways and Means Committee website (waysandmeans.house.gov) to read the bill in its entirety as well as a section-by-section summary. I will continue to update you as this important legislation progresses.