Wednesday, September 16, 2009

America's Healthy Future Act of 2009

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus unveiled the Senate version of health reform, "America's Healthy Future Act of 2009." The 10-year $856 billion Senate plan is a $44 billion savings from the number President Obama quoted last week in his prime time health reform speech.

Here is Senator Baucus announcing the bill:

It includes provisions to extend health insurance to tens of millions of Americans not now covered and the creation of a network of nonprofit health insurance cooperatives. His op-ed from the Wall Street Journal is below the full bill:

Wall Street Journal OpEd By MAX BAUCUS

Over the past decade, American families and businesses have seen their health-care costs skyrocket. Today, employer-based coverage for a family of four typically costs more than $13,000. At the current rate of growth, health-care spending will double in less than 10 years taking $1 out of every $5 we spend.

The facts are undisputable: Our current system is simply unsustainable. Small business owners across the country do the math and conclude they have no choice but to cut health benefits for their employees because premiums have simply become unaffordable. Every 30 seconds another person files for bankruptcy because of the high costs of their medical care. And every day another 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance. The status quo is no longer an option.

Health care is a complicated and deeply personal issue; it takes time and effort to get reform right. Legislating every piece of this puzzle would be impossible and counterproductive. What we can do is seize this opportunity to put America back on a fiscally sustainable path. The Senate Finance Committee proposal builds on what already works and fixes what threatens to break the bank for future generations.

That's why I have been disappointed to read misinformation about our proposal. The reality is that our plan controls spending without adding to the federal deficit, expands coverage, protects consumers from unfair insurance industry practices, and puts choice back into the hands of consumers and businesses.

For starters, our plan pays for every cent of new spending without using additional tax dollars. Our plan would lower costs and would not add to the federal deficit. In fact, it would begin reducing the federal deficit within 10 years by containing costs through industry reforms. These reforms would focus on preventing diseases before they become costly to treat and paying health-care providers for the quality of care they deliver not the number of tests they order.

Our plan would give businesses the freedom to offer any policy they choose, so long as it meets a basic quality standard. That quality standard which would cover basic benefits like primary care and prescription drugs would hold insurance companies accountable for the product they sell so that consumers can be confident they have stable coverage that cannot be taken away if they get sick.

Our plan would promote healthy competition and put real choices back in the hands of consumers. Small businesses with tight financial constraints would finally be able to offer health benefits through affordable tax credits.

Our plan would take the guess work out of buying insurance so consumers could make informed decisions about the insurance policies they buy. Through state-based "insurance exchanges," individuals and small businesses could shop for plans offered within their zip codes and determine their eligibility for tax credits to buy insurance.

Our plan would force insurance companies to compete on price and quality, and it would stop them from selecting out the healthiest among us and hiding benefit limitations that only become apparent when a person gets sick.

Our plan would not restrict, in any way, the treatments patients receive. Nor would it inhibit the free-market innovations that have contributed to the exceptional medical advances Americans have benefited from in the last century. In fact, our plan would establish new incentives for innovation by allowing health-care providers that improve quality and reduce costs to share in the savings they achieve.

Our plan would not put government between patients and doctors, and it wouldn't force anyone to change his or her coverage. If you like the care you have today, you can keep it.

The time has come for action. And we will act. In the next several weeks, the Senate Finance Committee will do its part to control costs, protect consumers from unfair insurance industry practices, and put America back on a path toward fiscal sustainability.

Mr. Baucus, a Democratic senator from Montana, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.


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