April 04, 2007

Wyden Proposes Historic New Health Care Plan;Effort Has Business and Labor Support

Washington, D.C. - Following 60 years of gridlock on a desperately-needed overhaul of the nation's health care system, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Finance Committee, today unveiled a groundbreaking new proposal to provide affordable, high quality, private health coverage for everyone regardless of where they work or live.The plan, known as the Healthy Americans Act:-- guarantees private health care coverage that cannot be taken away for all Americans;-- provides benefits for all Americans equal to those of Members of Congress;-- provides incentives for individuals and insurers to focus on prevention, wellness and disease management;-- provides tough cost containment and saves $1.48 trillion over 10 years; and-- is fully paid for by spending the $2.2 trillion currently spent on health care in America.Speaking at a morning news conference, Wyden was joined by a diverse group of individuals concerned that health care in the United States is on life support. Joining the Senator were Andy Stern President of SEIU, a 1.8 million-member labor group; Steve Burd, Chairman, President and CEO of Safeway, a Fortune 50 employer; Ron Pollack from Families USA, a leader on health care for the low-income; Mike Roach, a 30-year member of the National Federation of Independent Businesses and small business owner from Oregon; CEO Bob Beal, a medium-size business owner from Oregon; Malene Davis, President and CEO of Capital Hospice; Don Schumacher, Executive Director of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; and Pat Maryland, Chairperson, Citizens' Health Care Working Group."The Healthy Americans Act provides a guarantee: health coverage for every American that is at least as good as Members of Congress receive and can never be taken away," Wyden said. "The Act provides universal coverage for no more money than our country spends today. Better care, financial health and security, no increase in costs.""We're here because it is time to fix health care," Wyden added. "After decades of talk and study, it's time for action. Fixing health care is not as complicated as one might think. Start by making care more affordable. That means eliminating inefficiency, beginning with when a person signs up for coverage. Get citizens good quality outpatient health care so they don't go to hospital emergency rooms. Reward prevention - health care, not sick care. Beef up the quality of care by reducing medical errors in our hospitals."Under The Healthy Americans Act individuals will choose from a variety of plans offered in their state providing coverage similar to what is currently available to Members of Congress. State-based Health Help Agencies (HHAs) will guide individuals through the enrollment process. HHAs will provide unbiased information about the state's competing private health plans that will in turn empower individualsrather than their employersto choose the best private plans for them and their families. HHAs also will connect individuals and families with sliding scale premium reduction to ensure everyone can afford care. Most individuals and families will qualify for health care tax deductions.Also under the Healthy Americans Act, subscribers will not be charged co-pays for preventive services or chronic disease management. Insurers will be able to offer discounts and other incentives based on participation in wellness programs such as nutrition counseling, tobacco cessation and exercise. Primary care physicians will be reimbursed for investing time in chronic disease management and prevention. And with Health Help Agencies publishing consumer-oriented information on every plan's success in prevention and disease management, insurance companies will ultimately be competing to keep Americans healthy.For those who already have existing health problems, occupation, gender, genetic information and age will no longer be allowed to impact your eligibility or the price you pay for insurance.In 2006, approximately 61 percent of employers provide coverage, down eight percent from 2000. Over that same time period, premiums have increased 87 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.All employers will share the responsibility of financing health care with individuals and the government. During a two-year transition phase, employers who have been providing health insurance will "cash out" the value of that health insurance and provide that amount in wages to their employees. After the two years, all employers will make a shared responsibility payment, meaning they pay up to 25 percent of the average premium for essential care in the area. Employers will no longer have the burden of finding affordable health care for their employees.Wyden said, "The current health care system is not focused on 'health care,' it is focused on 'sick care.'" The Healthy Americans Act bolsters prevention and primary care by providing incentives for individuals to get preventive care and participate in wellness activities that will keep them healthier. Because individuals will be more likely to build long-term relationships with plans they select themselves, insurance companies will have a financial incentive to invest in prevention, disease management and other activities to keep their subscribers healthy.Health care costs in the United States are growing at an unsustainable rate. In 2004, Americans spent $1.9 trillion on health care. This year spending will exceed $2.2 trillion. The bill levels the playing field by requiring insurance companies to value every American equally and it requires insurers to give consumers the information they need to have power in the marketplace. The Healthy Americans Act also contains costs by better investing health care dollars. For example, because low-income people would have coverage, they can go to the doctor and get treated before their condition gets so serious they need to go to the emergency room for costly procedures.The Healthy Americans Act provides health care that is more dependable than employment. By putting Americansrather than their employersin charge of health care, everyone will be guaranteed quality care, even if they change jobs, lose their job or become too sick to work a job. As long as you are paying your premium, you will be guaranteed coverage, and by providing a sliding scale of assistance for individuals and families who may encounter difficulty paying their premiums, the Healthy Americans Act promises that you will not only always be able to afford your insurance, you will always have care.Learn more about the Healthy Americans Act.See examples of how the Healthy Americans Act will help every American afford quality health care.See examples of how the Healthy Americans Act will work for employers.Read a section by section explanation of the legislation.Read "Cost and Coverage Estimates for the 'Healthy Americans Act'"Download the full text of the Healthy Americans Act.