Labor Backs Health Reform Bills Moving Through Congress


To cheers from leaders of the labor movement, a public option as part of health reform cleared a major legislative hurdle, July 15, with passage of the Quality, Affordable Health Coverage for All Americans Act in the Senate HELP Committee.

The bill would expand health care coverage for tens of millions of Americans who currently lack insurance and will provide tens of millions more with more choices about which health plan suits them best.

A recent study published by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that many parts of the country are dominated by just one or two health insurance companies, forcing limits on choices and little market control over the cost of premiums and other medical expenses.

In addition, according to a recent report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, insurance companies typically refuse to provide coverage to people because of what they determine to be 'preexisting conditions' or medical needs that may limit insurance company profits from a particular individual. Usually, such decisions are made by insurance company bureaucrats rather than doctors or other medical experts.

The aim of the public option, as President Obama has repeatedly argued, is to provide Americans with more choices about their insurer and about who their doctor will be. In addition, those choices will be made more affordable.

In a statement made just after the Senate committee passed the bill, President Obama urged final passage of the health reform package. When health reform becomes a reality, he said, '[n]o longer will insurance companies be able to deny coverage based on a pre-existing medical condition. No longer will Americans have to worry about their health insurance if they lose their job, change their job or open a new business.'

In addition, the President affirmed the strategic and moral need for a public option in health reform. He remarked, 'Among the choices that would be available in the exchange would be a public health insurance option that would make health care affordable by increasing competition, providing more choices, and keeping the insurance companies honest.'

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D, Conn., who chairs the Senate HELP Committee in Sen. Ted Kennedy's absence, expressed confidence that health reform would pass in 2009. 'In a country of this great affluence, and this great ability, with the professional class we have in our health care area, we ought to be able to a lot better than we've been doing,' Dodd said.

'It's not longer just unacceptable, the health care system,' Sen. Dodd added, 'it's unsustainable.' The provisions in the bill passed by the committee will expand access, affordable and control costs, he vowed.

Upon the announcement that the Senate HELP Committee passed its version of the reform bill, Center for American Progress Action Fund Senior Fellow Judy Feder praised the Senate's work and offered a warning to Republican opponents of health reform. 'The opponents of reform would stand by as our employer-based health care system unravels, leaving millions of Americans at risk of losing the insurance they currently have,' she stated.

'By contrast, this bill would shore up the current system and let Americans who like their heath insurance keep it while providing hard-working Americans with more choice and stability,' Feder explained.

A group of House committees introduced a similar universal health care bill earlier this week. The House bill is essentially the same as the Senate bill but includes a modest surcharge on the wealthiest one percent of Americans as a funding mechanism for the program.

Both bill won praise from the labor movement. In a press statement, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard endorsed the House bill, saying, 'It creates a high quality public health insurance plan option that will bring real competition for private insurance from day one.'

'The legislation meets President Obama’s goals to control runaway health care costs, offering all Americans real choices for expanded access to quality health care,' Gerard added.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney praised both bills and remarked, 'We are truly moving toward a historic moment when Americans will finally have access to quality, affordable health care.'