After sending this reply, a got a message stating her inbox was full. I guess I’m not the only one who’s not buying what she’s selling. I have put Lincoln’s e-mail first, followed by my response.
Thank you for contacting me regarding health care reform legislation in the United States Senate.
In November, I voted to bring the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (HR 3590) up for debate in the Senate. This legislation is the combined product of bills passed after many months of work by the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, of which I am a member. In a statement I delivered on the Senate floor the day of the first procedural vote, I made it clear that although I could not support passage of this legislation as it was introduced, I believed it was more important that we begin this debate to improve our nation’s health care system for all Americans rather than bypass an opportunity to improve our health care system entirely.
Health care in America is on an unsustainable path, with health care costs rising at rates far above the rate of inflation, and insurance premiums in Arkansas rising 5.8 times faster than paychecks over the past decade. Furthermore, there simply aren’t enough health insurance options available to most Americans today. In at least 17 states-including Arkansas-only one insurance company controls more than half of the insurance market, and in at least 22 states still only two carriers control half the market or more.
I believe that the health care provided in America is the best in the world. Our country trains the best physicians, builds the finest facilities and designs the best medical technologies, but the way we deliver and finance health care in America is not as efficient as it should be and fails to meet the current demands of the American population. Our country spends almost twice as much per person on health care than the average per-person spending of 29 other developed nations, and yet we still lag behind much of the rest of the industrialized world on many health outcomes and in access to health care coverage for our citizens. I’m confident we can do better.
I believe that Arkansans and other Americans deserve an honest and open debate on how to best achieve commonsense reform. There is no easy fix, and I have heard from thousands of Arkansans who have expressed to me their passionate views on the best way to achieve positive change as well as their concerns with existing proposals. I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues on these issues to shape legislation that benefits Arkansas.
For the past month, the full Senate has been debating the bill, and through my hard work and the hard work of other members, the bill has changed substantially into a final product that I believe offers significant improvement. I support the revised Senate health care plan because it will curb rising health care costs over the long term, expand access to quality, affordable, health insurance plans to more than 400,000 uninsured Arkansans, and reduce the federal deficit by $132 billion in the next 10 years-all without a new government plan that places taxpayers at risk. Furthermore I have made it clear that as the House and Senate reconcile their bills over the coming weeks, I will not support a bill that departs significantly from the current Senate bill.
The final Senate bill (HR 3590) changes the way insurance companies do business. For plans purchased through an exchange, they will no longer be able to deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition, nor will they be able to raise your rates or drop you because you get sick. Insurers will be penalized for unfair rate hikes. We must put an end to these unfair practices that are symptomatic of market conditions that allow for little true choice or competition, and we must ensure that patients and their physicians are allowed to make treatment decisions based on the best science available to them and the individual needs of the patient. Bureaucrats, either in the government or private insurance companies, should not be allowed to interfere in care decisions. These are thoughtful, practical provisions contained in HR 3590 that I support and believe can make real progress toward expanding access to coverage and improving our health care system.
I have worked hard in this bill to ensure seniors will not see a reduction in the Medicare coverage and benefits they have always relied upon. I believe in the promise our government made to working Americans – that if we work hard, Medicare will be there to help us in our golden years. Medicare has made a healthy and secure retirement possible for tens of millions of Americans, and I am committed to ensuring that it continues to serve America’s senior citizens.
How Arkansans will be able to access health insurance coverage under the Senate bill is based on legislation I first introduced in 2004. Small businesses, the self-employed, their families, and other individuals will be able to shop for coverage from a range of quality, affordable, private insurance plans through the health insurance exchange to be established in Arkansas. Furthermore, I successfully pushed for an additional $14 billion in tax relief for our small businesses, for a total of $38 billion. Small businesses across the country will now get the help they need to access coverage, placing them at the competitive advantage large corporations have enjoyed. Approximately 50,000 small businesses in Arkansas, with 260,000 workers, will be eligible for the small business tax credit that I authored. I also successfully pushed to ensure there would be no mandate on small business to purchase coverage. This means that Arkansas small businesses with fewer than 50 employees will not be required to cover their employees. In my conversations with Arkansas small business owners, I learned that while many small businesses wanted to provide coverage for their workers, they could not find affordable options.
Employees of firms that do not provide coverage will be able to shop for a plan on the insurance exchange. Further, within the exchanges, and again based on the bill I authored in 2004, some health insurance plans including at least one non-profit plan will be sold in all 50 states, bringing new competition into Arkansas, with the Federal Office of Personnel Management negotiating rates to keep premiums affordable as they currently do for federal employees.
Now that the Senate is nearing the end of this long road, it is clear my primary goals have been met. Namely, this bill will expand access to 31 million Americans and more than 400,000 Arkansans, change the way insurance companies do business, provide stability for those who have insurance, and protect our seniors by closing the Medicare Part D ‘doughnut hole’ and ensuring seniors can receive quality Medicare benefits for years to come. It will do all of this without adding to our nation’s deficit and placing taxpayers at risk due to an unnecessary expansion of government. I am proud to support the Senate’s final proposal.
I understand the health care reform process is complex and there is an incredible amount of misinformation circulating on what is or is not contained in the bills currently under consideration. I can state clearly that I have not and will not support legislation that makes illegal immigrants eligible for any federal benefits or subsidies for health insurance, and the current bill includes clear safeguards that prohibit illegal immigrants from accessing such benefits. I have also worked hard to ensure that provisions in this bill neither expand nor limit current law regarding abortion through health care reform legislation, and I support provisions in the bill that prohibit federal dollars from funding elective abortions.
I have heard from many Arkansans who support medical malpractice insurance reform, which I have supported in the past and in the current debate. The Senate bill authorizes demonstration projects that will tell us more about how best to reform medical malpractice insurance in order to lower costs to patients and providers, while continuing to ensure that both are protected.
Throughout this process, I have pushed to ensure the Senate is conducting this debate in a public and transparent manner. Americans across the country and certainly many Arkansans have been actively engaged in this debate, and I encourage you to remain engaged. That is why I have worked to ensure that the public has had access to the bill language, amendments, and supporting materials before votes have occurred. For instance, before I would vote to allow HR 3560 to be brought up for debate, I called on Majority Leader Harry Reid to make the full text of the legislation available online for at least 72 hours before the vote, and it was. I also built a “Health Care Resources Page” on my web site at www.lincoln.senate.gov where anybody can access the bill text, as well as the full text of any amendments brought up for debate. There are also links to reports and cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
I appreciate knowing of your thoughts and concerns regarding the health care debate. While the legislation before us is complex, we are not re-inventing the wheel or moving to a single-payer, government-run health care system. I believe that we can build on what works, keep the insurance companies honest and restore the faith of most Americans in government’s ability to do the right thing.
Finally, while I remain optimistic that through this debate process we can craft a responsible, forward-looking bill, my first priority remains the people of Arkansas and not any political party or partisan organization, and I will not support legislation that does not serve the best interests of our great state.
Thank you again for contacting me. To learn more about my work in Congress, I encourage you to visit my online office and sign up for my e-newsletter at http://www.lincoln.senate.gov. I am proud to serve the citizens of Arkansas in the United States Senate and hope you will not hesitate to let me know whenever I may be of assistance to you.
Blanche L. Lincoln
A few questions and statements:
What gives you the right to force me to buy anything, from health insurance to chocolate ice cream? What part of the Constitution gives you that right?
What you failed to mention in your nicely phrased e-mail is that it will be cheaper for businesses with more than 50 employees to stop providing insurance to their workers and pay an annual penalty than to continue with their current insurance plans. This would directly affect me and mine. So much for me being able to keep my current insurance plan.
All of the news stories I’ve seen mention that the taxes and fees associated with this bill would start almost immediately after it is signed into law, while the new health care services wouldn’t begin until four years after that. The price goes up drastically after the service portion kicks in, further increasing our debt load and putting the lie to the pretense of deficit reduction.
Please point out the language in the bill that prohibits illegals from getting publicly subsidized health care. I don’t think it exists.
Please stop giving me Obama/Pelosi/Reid/Schumer talking points and deal with with the bill will really do. I can listen to the news for the democrat talking points.