Monday, May 21, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

Medicare proves health insurance reform will work

More than 14,000 Americans lost their health insurance today. Tomorrow, another 14,000 Americans will lose theirs - 14,000 Americans, day in and day out.

Millions of middle-class families across the country are one illness away from financial ruin.

Congress is debating landmark health-insurance reform to cut consumer health-care costs, promote consumer choice, and increase consumer purchasing power in the private insurance market.

It is designed to enable Americans who have coverage to keep it and Americans who need coverage to purchase it. It is designed to build on the health-care system we have today - rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse to reduce taxpayer-funded health spending.

Opponents of health insurance reform are making outrageous claims about it, twisting words and facts to scare the American people. They cite a page number in a bill, wildly misrepresent the contents of that page, and then somehow sleep at night.

We've been here before.

This week marks the 44th anniversary of another landmark moment in our nation's health-care system. It marks another time in our history when detractors of health-care reform cried, "government takeover," promising the worst possible outcome.

Forty-four years ago this week, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law. Medicare, the program that ensures our parents and grandparents have access to affordable health care. Medicare, which protects seniors and their families from backbreaking health expenses. Medicare, which operates more efficiently than any other health care coverage - public or private - in our country.

What lessons can we learn from Medicare's passage? The Medicare experience taught us that progress does not come easily - especially in the face of big-name campaign contributions and big-dollar ad campaigns. The experience also taught us that progress is not always a function of bipartisanship.

Of the key congressional votes on Medicare, only 13 Republican senators and only 70 House Republicans joined overwhelming Democratic majorities to vote for it.

We're seeing the same kind of opposition today as we fight for health-insurance reform.

Republicans in Congress are claiming that defeating reform would break President Obama, that a defeat on this issue will be his Waterloo.

The drug industry and the health-insurance industry are spending millions of dollars to influence Congress. The health-insurance industry is camping out at the Capitol, railing against the public insurance option. Competing against a public insurance option would force private insurers to cut premiums and increase quality.

No wonder they don't like it.

Forty-four years ago, Medicare was targeted by equally powerful special interests and equally vocal Republican opponents.

Yet Medicare has proved itself. It has pulled millions of seniors out of poverty, it has helped retirees live long and healthy lives, it has helped to fuel our economy.

Medicare has proved just how important health insurance is. A landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Americans who were uninsured prior to joining Medicare were in significantly poorer health than insured Americans. Several years after enrolling in Medicare, those differences evaporated. Medicare works.

And health-insurance reform will work. It will cut health-care costs for millions of middle-class families and small businesses across the country. It will end uncertainty about health coverage because both private and public insurance will always be available. It will confront the needless red tape, medical errors, and fraud and abuse that inflate health-care costs and compromise health-care quality. It will prevent insurance companies from covering you when you're healthy and dropping you when you're sick, and from denying you coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Health-insurance reform will keep the insurance industry honest.

We are making progress in Congress. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee recently took an important step by passing the first health-insurance reform legislation.

But we still have work to do. And we must do it together. Inaction doesn't protect your health coverage or push health-care costs down. We must take action to turn things around. Special interests, jaded politicians, and talking heads are going to pull out all the stops to freeze our health-care system in time.

Don't let them win.

Sherrod Brown is the junior U.S. senator from Ohio.

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