In an historic vote a week and half ago, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would finally make affordable health care possible for the citizens of our wonderful country. Then yesterday the Senate introduced their own legislation, "another critical milestone in the health reform effort" as the President put it.
When President Obama addressed members of Congress in September, "This is our moment to live up to the trust that the American people have placed in us—even when it’s hard; especially when it’s hard. This is our moment to deliver." But of course as great a milestone as the vote was, we’ve still got a ways to go so we need everybody to stay involved.
For our part, we have been working all along to ensure the American people are engaged in the discussion on reform. That’s why I hosted a web chat recently on how health insurance reform will help to eliminate health disparities and how reform will affect underserved communities. Citizens and leaders from around the country submitted hundreds of questions beforehand and during the chat via Facebook. I wanted to post the video of that for anybody who missed it and take this opportunity to address some of the questions we didn’t have time to answer.
Question #1: We got a lot of questions from disabled Americans – I touched on some of the issues during the chat, but this was another one I wanted to address:
"How will the special needs of some people with disabilities be addressed? Examples include deaf individuals needing interpreters skilled in signing medical information, women who are partially paralyzed or use wheel chairs needing special equipment for medical examinations such as gynecological examinations. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago would be a great resource on these issues."
Health reform will lower costs for people with disabilities by rewarding quality and cutting waste, two guiding principles for this entire effort.
By expanding health insurance to all Americans and providing premium assistance to make it affordable, health insurance reform will significantly increase access to a choice of health insurance plans for individuals with disabilities. This will enable individuals who are employed to keep their jobs rather than giving up employment in order to receive Medicaid benefits.
People with disabilities are less likely to receive preventive care and are more likely to be diagnosed with screenable cancers at a later stage. By ensuring that all Americans have access to preventive care and investing in public health, health reform will work to create a system that prevents illness and disease instead of just treating it when it’s too late.
In addition, health reform will include the CLASS Act - a new voluntary, long-term care services insurance program. Under the program, individuals will pay a premium, and in exchange, the program will provide a lifetime cash benefit that offers seniors and people with disabilities some protection against the costs of paying for long-term supports and services. The program also helps individuals obtain services and supports that will enable them to remain in their homes and communities. The CLASS Act is not comprehensive long-term care reform, but it represents a helpful step that provides individuals with a viable mechanism for insuring against the risk of needing long-term services that broadens the resources for financing long-term services to lessen the reliance on Medicaid.
Question #2: This is a question that we didn’t get to, but really we just can’t answer enough because of how much misinformation has been out there about it:
"How will the health insurance reform affect costs and coverages for seniors who currently already have Medicare? Will they have to pay more taxes in the future? Many solely depend on their social security retirement income, what impact does it have on seniors?"
Health insurance reform protects Medicare benefits and reduces costs for seniors. Medicare benefits will not be cut. Period. In fact, seniors will get benefits they do not have under the current system: a reduction in prescription drug prices if they fall into the gap in coverage known as the “donut hole”; no cost-sharing for preventive care; and more coordinated care that will enable providers to track their health, treatments and prescriptions and avoid duplication and medical errors.
The President’s plan protects Medicare and improves its financial health. Not one penny of the Medicare Trust Fund will be used to help pay for reform.
By eliminating waste, such as overpayments to private insurance companies and cutting down on unnecessary hospital readmissions--- we will strengthen the Medicare trust fund – by 4 to 5 years - and be sure benefits are protected in the future.
Question #3: This one gets at a core issue in our health care system:
"Health Insurance Reform has focused on acute medical care. Why has it ignored long-term care which if unattended creates serious acute medical care problems (particularly for minority communities)? When will the White House address long-term care?"
As I mentioned above, health insurance reform adds a new, innovative program for long-term supports and services called the CLASS Act. Employed individuals pay premiums, and if they develop a disability, they receive a cash benefit of at least $50 a day that they can use to pay to for services to assist them with daily activities. This program will empower people to remain active in their communities, and take charge of their long-term care needs. It will also help people avoid needing to go into a nursing home or other nursing facility.
Beyond the CLASS Act, several proposals exist that would improve long-term care. The draft Senate Finance bill would provide additional funding to states to develop home and community based services under Medicaid. It would also provide funding to ADRCs, or Aging and Disability Resource Centers, which provide needed information for people with disabilities seeking caregiver assistance. Also, nursing homes would have increased transparency, including reporting of staffing and improved complaints processes.
Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement