A Daily Dose of Truth” (#4): A Lot to Like in Health Care Reform

November 19, 2010

~by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

Daily DoseTruth is witness to the whole.  One short sound-bite taken out of context — even if it’s a fact — does not necessarily represent the whole truth. We denounce the use of such sound-bites (from any party!) when they are intended to pervert truth for electoral gain. In the end, we acknowledge that a manipulation of facts to frighten and confuse vulnerable populations is just plain immoral.

Many people of faith have been guided by A Faith-Inspired Vision of Health Care as they have advocated for comprehensive and compassionate health care reform in the U.S. The statement envisions a society where all persons are afforded health, wholeness, and human dignity and a health care system that is inclusive, affordable, accessible, and accountable. Since health care reform became law on March 23, 2010, we already have made progress in working toward that vision.
 
VISION: An inclusive system of health care

  • Children under age 19 can no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
  • Young adults up to age 26 can stay on parents’ policies that go into effect after 9/23/10, unless they are offered coverage at work.

VISION: An affordable system of health care

Senior adults are receiving rebate checks when they reach the gap (doughnut hole) in their prescription drug coverage.

  • Key preventive care, such as mammograms, colonoscopies, immunizations, pre-natal and new baby care will be covered without co-pays or deductibles in new plans after 9/23/10.
  • Prior authorization cannot be required for emergency care; higher costs cannot be imposed for out-of-network emergency care in new plans after 9/23/10.
  • Small businesses are receiving tax credits for providing health care benefits for their workers.
  • 46 states are using resources under the new reform law to pass or strengthen premium rate review laws.

VISION:  An accessible system of health care

  • Women now have direct access to OB/GYNs without a referral.
  • Enrollees in new plans after 9/23/10 must have a choice of primary care physicians.
  • Lifetime limits on insurance payouts will be eliminated, and annual limits will be greatly restricted.
  • Expanded funding for community health centers will increase access to medical care in under-served areas.
  • Persons who have been uninsured for 6 months because of pre-existing conditions now have access to Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans

VISION: An accountable system of health care

  • Insurance companies can no longer drop people from coverage because of illness.
  • Members of Congress and their staff members will receive their health insurance from the same exchanges.
  • Persons will have the right to external appeals of decisions made by insurers.

About the polling data:

Attack ads, debates, and press conferences feature the opposition saying that the American people do not want reform.  If just one aspect of polling is considered, it is true that many folks do not like the “caricature” of reform that is based on mis-representation and misunderstandings.  However, polling results on some of the benefits outlined above reflect a very different TRUTH about what the public thinks about reform.

There’s no question that the public is confused, in part because health care reform is confusing. But there are many benefits in reform that are crystal clear, and when those facts are known, who would want to give them up — either for themselves or their neighbors?

For more information:

Read What I Like about Health Care Reform from Faithful Reform in Health Care.

View the Kaiser Family Foundation YouToons video, Health Reform Hits Main Street, which highlights the benefits of health care reform.

Visit HealthCare.Gov, the website that was mandated by health care reform, which includes videos and fact sheets about health care reform.  Be sure to note the new section with information about finding affordable insurance and/or health care services by zip code.

Read an editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News, The Down-Side of Health Care Repeal: Which of These Features Would Opponents Be Willing to Lose?

Review Kaiser Family Foundation’s Data Note, How Popular is Repealing Reform, a compilation of polling data.

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Make suggestions for future topics based on the mis-information you are receiving in ads, emails, and conversations.  Simply send an email with your suggestions.

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“A Daily Dose of Truth” (#3): The Requirement to Buy Insurance

November 19, 2010

~by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

Daily DoseTruth is witness to the whole.  One short sound-bite taken out of context — even if it’s a fact — does not necessarily represent the whole truth. We denounce the use of such sound-bites (from any party!) when they are intended to pervert truth for electoral gain. In the end, we acknowledge that a manipulation of facts to frighten and confuse vulnerable populations is just plain immoral.

Health care justice and the common good are best served when everyone is actually IN a nation’s system of health care.  And that’s the whole point of the health care reform requirement for everyone to have insurance.

With everyone IN, we’ll all have timely access to the benefits of health care coverage rather than waiting until too late, or worse, getting no care at all.  With everyone insured, society-at-large partners with the health care system, fairly distributing the responsibilities, costs, risks, and benefits.

The requirement for everyone to have insurance:

  • Protects all of us from the costs of medical care for patients who can pay for insurance but refuse to do so. The subsidies will be designed so as not to impose a burden greater than any one person or family can bear.
  • Affirms the government’s rightful role in regulation and oversight on behalf of the public good.  It is an effort to get everyone playing by the same rules, resulting in fair treatment for everyone fairly in return.

Exemptions to the requirement for insurance:  Persons exempt from the requirement to have insurance will include:  those whose faith communities object to insurance; those without coverage for less than 3 months; American Indians; undocumented immigrants; those with hardship exemptions (for whom the lowest cost plan available exceeds 8% of individual income); and those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but earn too little to file income tax.

Penalties for not purchasing insurance:  The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Commission on Taxation estimate that by 2016 only about 4 million persons (1% of the population) will choose to pay the assessed penalty rather than purchase insurance.  Two-thirds of those would qualify for subsidies in the exchanges; the remaining third would be among the top 10% of income-earners in the U.S.

Those who choose not to purchase insurance will pay a penalty that will help cover the cost of maintaining the health system, including the cost of uncompensated care.  The penalties will begin in 2014 and increase each year:  2014 – the greater of $95 or 1% of taxable income; 2015 – the greater of $325 or 2% of taxable income; 2016 – the greater of $695 or 2.5% of taxable income; beyond 2016 – indexed to the cost of living.

What happens if the requirement to purchase insurance is repealed? 

Insurance costs would likely rise for everyone. In the negotiations leading to reform, this requirement was coupled with the ban on the insurers’ practice of banning persons from coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The costs for adding persons with pre-existing conditions will escalate if the enrolling the sick is not off-set with healthy enrollees.  (One interesting note:  Polls continue to show the usual split between supporters and opponents of reform.  However, once those who support repeal are told it would mean ending the ban on insurance exclusions for pre-exisitng conditions, only a quarter of repeal supporters hold their original position!)

The costs of uncompensated care will continue to increase costs system-wide. Very few people travel through life without accessing the health system at some point. The penalty for not purchasing insurance simply helps offset the medical costs for those who choose not to purchase insurance, but do not have the ability to pay for expensive care.

For more information:

Read the full statement from Faithful Reform in Health Care: Faith Values & Responsibility in Health Care Reform

View the Kaiser Family Foundation YouToons video, Health Reform Hits Main Street, which includes a section that clearly articulates the relationship between the requirement to buy insurance and the ban on insurers’ exclusions for pre-existing conditions.

Read the New England Journal of Medicine article, A Broader Regulatory Scheme – The Constitutionality of Health Care Reform, which discusses the constitutionality of the requirement to buy insurance.

Make a suggestion for future topics based on the mis-information you are receiving in ads, emails, and conversations.  Simply send an email with your suggestions.


A Daily Dose of Truth (#1): Medicare in Health Care Reform

November 19, 2010

~ by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

Daily Dose

Truth is witness to the whole.  One short sound-bite taken out of context — even if it’s a fact — does not necessarily represent the whole truth. We denounce the use of such sound-bites (from any party!) when they are intended to pervert truth for electoral gain. In the end, we acknowledge that a manipulation of facts to frighten and confuse vulnerable populations is just plain immoral.

When health care reform was passed in March 2010, our nation’s seniors became the beneficiaries of a strengthened, improved, and re-structured Medicare system.  A number of provisions will improve Medicare services for enrollees and extend Medicare’s solvency for another ten years.

Direct benefits of health care reform for  Medicare beneficiaries

  • Prescription drugs.  The prescription drug coverage gap (the “doughnut hole”) will be eliminated over ten years.  In 2010, the coverage gap will be reduced by $250 in the form of rebate checks that have already been sent to millions of beneficiaries who have reached the doughnut hole.  In 2011, program enrollees will receive a 50% discount off the price of brand name drugs during the coverage gap.  In ten years, the doughnut hole will be closed completely. Other provisions will expand assistance for some low-income beneficiaries enrolled in the Medicare drug program.
  • Preventive care.  For traditional Medicare beneficiaries, in 2011 co-pays and deductibles will be eliminated from most preventive services.  An annual comprehensive wellness visit and personalized prevention plan are added, which are not subject to coinsurance or deductibles.
  • Medicare Advantage plans. The private-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans will be prohibited from charging beneficiaries higher cost sharing for services than is allowed in traditional Medicare.  Plans that offer extra benefits will be required to give priority to wellness, preventive care services, and cost-sharing reductions over benefits not covered by traditional Medicare.
  • Physician incentives. Generous incentives are in the Affordable Care Act to increase the number of primary care physicians and to encourage primary care physicians to treat Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Low-income program. Outreach and enrollment assistance will be increased to beneficiaries eligible for the Part D low-income subsidy program.

$500 billion savings to the system

The $500 billion in cuts that are being denounced in attack ads are NOT cuts to benefits. They are cuts in waste, fraud, abuse, and government subsidies for private-for-profit insurance.  

  • Private-for-profit Medicare Advantage. Payments to private-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans will be restructured.  Excess payments will be rolled back, and performance bonuses will reward quality plans.  Part of the argument to privatize Medicare is that the private market can provide the same or more benefits at a lower cost than the federal government can do it.  Supporters believe that competition will keep the prices down and the quality up.  However, recent research is showing that the government is actually paying $1000+ more for Medicare enrollees in private plans than those in traditional Medicare.  Further, only 20% of Medicare beneficiaries are in the private plans subsidized by the government, but 100% of enrollees are paying for those subsidies!
  • Waste, fraud, abuse. Penalties will be enhanced on providers for waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Hospital readmissions. Reimbursements to hospitals with excess preventable readmissions and hospital-acquired infections will be reduced.
  • Coordinated purchasing. Value-based purchasing for hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, skilled nursing facilities, and home health agencies will be established.

THE TRUTH (with the “big T”):  Because of the 2010 reform of U.S. health care, Medicare is strengthened; beneficiaries will receive increased benefits; and costs will be controlled by cuts in waste, fraud, abuse, and government subsidies to private insurers.


For more information:

Faithful Reform in Health Care: What Health Care Reform Means for Medicare

Kaiser Family Foundation: Summary of Key Changes to Medicare in 2010 Health Reform Law (Issue Brief)

AARP:  What You Need to Know about the New Health Care Law (webinar)

HealthCare.Gov: Health Care Reform for Seniors (video & other info)

Medicare Rights Center: Health Reform and Medicare (Issue Briefs)


Health care reform on the 2 yard line

February 1, 2010

~ by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

It’s really only the last five minutes of the game that count! While my husband and son dismiss me as a nut every time I say it, it’s true!  Of course, they love everything about what leads up to the final moments in any game — and I don’t. Yet, I have fond memories of their excitement (and mine) at the end of sporting events, knowing that the last at-bat, the last free throw, the last pass, or the last kick will determine the final outcome. It is certainly true for the New Orleans Saints, who are going to the Super Bowl following a sudden death field goal — in overtime, no less!

Given that this week will be dominated by football news and ads, is there any better imagery for health care reform at this moment than that of getting the ball over the goal line?  Apparently President Obama likes the idea, because he told his advisors on Friday that we are on the 2 yard line and we’re going to finish the job!

So what does that mean for us — people of faith who REALLY care about making meaningful reform happen?  After hanging around and listening to Washington insiders for 3 days at the Families USA Health Action conference last week, I think it means three things:

We have to keep cheering! We know what the home field advantage and a cheering crowd mean to a team. At this moment, legislators are working hard to resolve their differences. They need to hear that we want them to keep working. In spite of missteps, dropped passes, and hard tackles, there is enough good in the team and their efforts to cheer them to victory.  It will take all of us — the fans in the stands — to make sure that the players stay energized for the final minutes of the game.  Here are a few suggestions for your part:

  • Call President Obama, your Senators, and your Representative
  • Add your name to “A Call for Political Courage, Vision, Leadership, and Faith”
  • Join the Interfaith Virtual Vigil of Prayer, Hope, and Action
  • Send an email to President Obama, your Senators, and your Representative
  • Join this week’s Faithful Reform conference call on Wed at 2 pm EST to preview a new PowerPoint that focuses on where we are and what needs to be done.

We have to remain hopeful for what can be! Our faith histories have taught us what it means to wander in the wilderness and to live with hope for more promising days ahead. Our hope rests in a moral vision for our health care future — and in our belief that we as a country have been blessed with the wisdom, the talent, and the abundant resources to do this. This is one of our gifts to this process. Our messages and our actions must demonstrate our judgment that comprehensive health care reform is possible because our care for one another is ultimately greater than either political ideologies or the influence of powerful lobbyists.

We have to remain positive! On one of our conference calls, our friend Nick Unger reminded us that if any single piece of legislation fully achieves our vision, then our vision isn’t big enough. While we were working for a more perfect plan, we neglected to affirm the really strong provisions that will move us forward in the current legislation. We have failed to celebrate that even the weakest versions of the reform proposals move us toward a more inclusive, affordable, accessible, and accountable system of health care in the U.S.  We must remind ourselves that:

  • Nearly 3 out of the 4 of us currently without insurance will be in the system.
  • The numbers of community health centers will be generously expanded.
  • The prescription drug doughnut hole in Medicare will shrink, perhaps disappear.
  • None of us will be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
  • None of us will be dropped from insurance because we get sick.
  • Insurers will be required to use a greater percentage of premium dollars on medical care, rather than on paperwork and perks.

We’re at the 2 yard line and we can make it over the goal line, even if it requires overtime.  Together we CAN win this one, but it will take ALL OF US to make it happen.

To our health care future!


“A Call to Political Courage, Vision, Leadership, and Faith”

January 27, 2010

~ by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

A new sign-on letter for people of faith has been launched: “A Call to Political Courage, Vision, Leadership, and Faith.” It has already been delivered to Congress with the names of nearly 60 national and state/regional organizations.  It is now open for individuals and additional organizations in preparation for another delivery very soon.  Time is short!  Read the letter below and add your name today!

“A Call to Political Courage, Vision, Leadership, and Faith”

Dear Mr. President, Senators, and Representatives:

We are communities of faith who have supported comprehensive health care reform for decades. We have also offered vocal support – and occasional constructive criticism – of the health care reform effort over the last year. We write to you at this critical juncture to urge you to complete the task at hand on behalf of the millions who are left out and left behind in our current health care system.

Opportunities to comprehensively address our broken health care system are rare. Decades of failed attempts at reform testify to the difficulty of this task, and we know that the current effort has not been easy. However, we now stand closer than ever before to historic health care reform. Turning back now could mean justice delayed for another generation and an unprecedented opportunity lost.

We know that no comprehensive health care reform bill will be perfect.  (Indeed, if any piece of legislation ever fulfills our full vision, our vision is far too small.)  However, we also know – as providers and consumers of services and care – that inaction at this critical moment is no way forward:

  • Without reform, tens of thousands will continue to die needlessly each year for lack of access to care.
  • Without reform, tens of millions will remain uninsured and without adequate access to a full range of services.
  • Without reform, health costs will continue to grow much faster than wages.
  • Without reform, many millions of hard-working people and their children will join the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured.
  • Without reform, businesses, staggered by increasing employee health costs, will either drop coverage or will be unable to make needed investments.
  • Without reform, the nation’s economy – and its ability to create jobs – will suffer.

As people of faith, we envision a society where every person is afforded health, wholeness and human dignity. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we just commemorated, famously wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Less well known is his admonition that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Let us not delay health care justice any longer. This is your moment for political courage, vision, leadership and faith. We urge you to take heart and move meaningful health care reform forward.

Add your name now

This letter is coordinated by the Washington Interreligious Staff Community Health Care Working Group and Faithful Reform in Health Care.