Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pro-Family Healthcare Reform

By Glenn Melancon
2008 Democratic candidate
U.S. House of Representatives,
TX 4th Congressional District

Facing falling poll numbers, the Republican political elites are downplaying their anti-gay and anti-abortion rhetoric. Political consultants had told them to use these “wedge issues” to divide America and win elections. More and more voters, however, want to know what their leaders stand for, not what they oppose. For the first time in thirty years we have an opportunity for real pro-family policies.

When Jackie and I took our traditional wedding vows nearly twenty years ago, they included the phrase “for richer, for poorer; in sickness, and in health.” Our ancestors knew the real threats to marriages. Healthcare and financial crises can easily wreck a relationship.

Politicians in Washington and Austin haven’t learned this lesson. The number of uninsured Americans grows every year. As many as 50 million adults and children lack coverage. The number would be even higher if we didn’t have Medicare—a government-run, single-payer health insurance provider.

Families without insurance are one accident away from bankruptcy. A trip to the emergency room can cost thousands of dollars. Once in financial ruin, families tend to argue more and break apart. Reforming health care insurance is essential to improving our financial well-being and making it easier for families to stay together.

Insurance reform should rest on a simple principle—every American has a right to quality, affordable health care from a doctor of their choice. Big insurance corporations have made affordable health care and patient choice relics of the past. It doesn’t have to be that way. Reforming the health insurance market can restore these basic features of quality American health care.

First, we need “Any Willing Provider Legislation.” Patients, not insurance companies, should choose the right doctor. Once an insurance company or HMO announces the terms of a contract, any qualified healthcare provider who agrees to the terms must be allowed to compete for patients.

“Any Willing Provider Legislation” would be particularly useful in rural Texas. Too often small town doctors are frozen out by big insurance companies. Patients are forced to travel into cities to see doctors who will accept their plan.

Congress should also guarantee equal access to healthcare insurance. Insurance companies must offer basic healthcare packages to all Americans. American families and small businesses should have the same choices and bargaining power as large corporations.

Third, Congress must require full coverage for pregnancy, diabetes and hypertension [high blood pressure]. Early intervention is the key to strong patient-doctor relationships. Patients need to see their doctor before their condition gets worse and the cost of treatment goes up. When doctors know their patients, they can help prevent expensive and possibly life-threatening complications.

Finally, we need public-private competition. All Americans should be allowed to purchase Medicare or something like it. For-profit insurers have to pay advertisers or shareholders. Medicare doesn’t. Medicare can offer the same healthcare coverage at lower costs to the consumer. The market will then determine which is a more cost effective and efficient way to sell insurance. We need real choices.

Health insurance reform will do more than anything else to relieve the financial stress that is destroying our families. Washington politicians who have been talking about protecting marriage are simply diverting your attention away from corporate greed. You know the classic con game. You’ve seen it countless times in movies. One person causes a distraction while another picks your pocket. Every time you hear gay marriage, look at your wallet—it’s lighter; look at your pension—it’s vanishing; look at your medical bills—they’re going through the roof. As Americans we deserve better. We deserve real pro-family health care.

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