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Thursday, January 21, 2010

An open letter to Congress

Ron Pollack

Executive Director

Health reform has never been easy. That lesson has come up throughout this year's legislative process - as if decades of failed reforms had not yet made that clear.

Health reform, however, is an imperative for our nation's families. Without reform, health costs will continue to grow much faster than wages.  Without reform, many millions of hard-working people and their families will join the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured.

And without reform, businesses, staggered by increasing employee health costs, will either drop coverage or will be unable to make needed investments. As a result, our nation's economy - and the ability to create good jobs - will suffer.

We must not let that happen.

Some members of Congress have said that we should abandon health reform for a later time. But make no mistake, if we abandon reform now - after moving further than ever before towards meaningful reform - we will not get back to this crucial agenda for a long, long time.

Some other members have suggested that we play "small ball": adopt only the most popular measures, such as prohibiting exclusions of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, and drop the more systemic reforms.

Unfortunately, that will not work.

As a number of states have learned, insurance market reforms - as important as they are - cannot work without expanded health coverage. Insurance market reforms implemented alone will lead to skyrocketing premiums as sicker, older people secure coverage and younger, healthier people don't.  This incremental approach is a recipe for disaster - both substantively and politically.

The Senate bill would expand health coverage to approximately 31 million people - and the House bill would reach even more. (The state-by-state projected expansions are attached.) Many millions more, who have insurance but are burdened with its costs, would also be helped with new subsidies.

You no doubt met many of these people in the communities you represent. You probably can remember their plea to make our health system better - and to make quality, health coverage and care affordable.

We must not abandon these people.

One last point: The policy slurs and defamations by health reform opponents, which will undoubtedly continue, cannot be effectively answered unless and until reform is enacted into law. It is only then that Americans around the country will see its benefits.

This is your moment for political courage, vision, and leadership. We urge you to move meaningful health reform forward to its needed enactment.