Wins in Healthcare

A poll I came across this week noted that most Americans now want Congress to do nothing rather than to pass the proposed healthcare plan, a statistic that is interesting considering that most Americans simultaneously believe that something needs to be done to address problems within our healthcare system.

What the poll represents is a growing frustration that Americans have, not with healthcare reform in general, but with the exhaustive, politically-charged debate that has occurred over the past few months. Americans are tired of listening to politicians argue the nuances of lengthy legislation. Americans are worn out after raising their voices against a government-run healthcare plan, only to find their elected representatives in Washington still considering such an option. Americans are tired of watching political parties fighting for the sake of fighting. Americans simply don’t want to stomach the healthcare debate any longer. And who can blame them? “Bipartisan solutions” has become a paradoxical phrase and the source of late-night talk show jokes. Americans have lost faith in their government leaders and in the credibility of their Congress.

But the reality is we do need to do something in healthcare. While Americans realize this, it seems most of the leadership in Washington has not. At the most basic level, Americans want to be able to look at solutions proposed by their government leaders and say “Yes – that solution is simple and it makes sense to me. That is something we need to do.”

Despite the infighting that has occurred over the past few months, there are areas of common ground in healthcare. One of those areas in particular is the belief that individuals ought to be able to depend on their health insurance coverage to be there when they need it.

In far too many cases today, health insurance companies are terminating insurance coverage – often times for senior citizens or individuals with chronic illness – without any notification or apparent reason. Sometimes it is individuals who face emergency situations that temporarily prevent them from taking care of their own bills. Sometimes it is senior citizens who make their payments on time and find that an error within the health insurance company’s system (or the postal system) caused the cancellation. Right now in our healthcare system, many insurers are not required to provide notice to those individuals that their policy will be cancelled. It often leaves an individual with thousands of dollars in medical bills they believed would be covered. The lack of notification of cancellation creates anxiety, unrest, financial hardship, and it is just not fair to consumers.

Likewise, if an individual gets sick or finds out they have a life-altering disease and then loses their job, finding new insurance with that pre-existing condition is not only nearly impossible, but can be devastating to a family financially. There have been numerous cases reported across the county where a person has been diagnosed with an expensive disease like cancer that led the insurance company to search for any discrepancy, omission, or misrepresentation in that person’s application materials and medical records to justify a policy cancellation or denial of coverage. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, insurance companies in 45 states across the country can discriminate against people based on their pre-existing conditions. For those individuals with chronic illness, denial or cancellation of health insurance can be a dangerous and life-threatening situation.

Denial of insurance coverage based on medical conditions is one of the most egregious healthcare issues we face today. And it is an area of reform that has overwhelming bipartisan support. President Obama and the Administration have supported this reform. Business leaders have supported this reform. Physicians overwhelmingly agree that this reform can and should be done. Republicans have supported this reform. Democrats have supported this reform. Most American citizens agree with this reform. Why then, has nothing been done?

It’s simple. Washington is stuck in a stalemate over 1000+ page proposals to overhaul our healthcare system and they are missing the unique opportunities we have to work together. This is why Americans are so frustrated with their government. They see leaders who would rather stubbornly argue for ideological or philosophical purity and an “all or nothing” bill than start down the path with solutions that will help us continue moving down the healthcare continuum.

A friend and a colleague of mine, Tom Osborne, coached the University of Nebraska football team for 25 years, leading them to three national championships before he came to serve in Congress. Tom once told me that successful coaches realize one simple rule of thumb – you don’t win championships by trying to score a touchdown every play. Good coaches, he said, focus on achieving first downs.

We need some first downs in Washington. We need to make small, but significant steps forward to restore institutional credibility and start making advances in healthcare. We need some successes in Washington that will ultimately lead to wins. We should start with the areas where it will be easiest – areas where we agree.

I've introduced a bipartisan bill that, if given a vote on the House floor today, would likely pass and would increase accessibility of healthcare and ensure continued coverage for millions of Americans. The Health Care Consumer Protection (HCCP) Act would provide individuals the right to reinstate their health insurance coverage that may have been terminated for a number of reasons.

Specifically, HCCP would require that if an insurance company cancels an individual's coverage under a group plan because they failed to pay their premiums, the insurance company must provide the following information in writing to the administrator of the plan and the individual covered within 14 days of cancellation:

  • Written notice that the coverage has been cancelled;
  • The reason for cancellation; and
  • Notice that the original terms of coverage may be reinstated if the individuals pays the past due premium.

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (MO) and Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL), both Democrats, have cosponsored this bill with me. While Congressman Cleaver, Congressman Lipinski and I don’t see eye-to-eye on every healthcare issue, we understand that on matters like this one where we have found common ground, we should take steps towards a solution. While HCCP is not the total healthcare solution, the end result of this bill will be a better healthcare system than the one we have now and more accessibility in healthcare for Americans.

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