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What You Need to Know About the U.S. Health Reform-Debate

October 29, 2009 By:
Sammie Moshenberg
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Sammie Moshenberg

You might say that we are "erev" health-care-reform consideration -- on the threshold of action by the House and Senate on much-anticipated, much-debated and much-misunderstood legislation that promises to tackle and fix some of our most intransigent problems with health coverage.

Still, even at this advanced stage in the legislative process, myths about the pending proposals persist. Let's take a look at three that are still all too common.

· Myth 1: Health reform will result in government funding of abortion services. In fact, there has been no effort to use health reform to reverse the notorious Hyde Amendment's ban on the use of federal health care dollars to fund abortion services.

Instead, members of Congress -- led by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) -- have worked successfully to craft a compromise that maintains the status quo regarding government funding of abortion. The Capps compromise would require insurance companies to keep a percentage of private premiums separate from government subsidies and use only those private funds for abortion coverage.

It also mandates at least one plan that offers abortion coverage -- and at least one that does not -- in each geographic region. That means that women would not lose access to abortion coverage and would continue to be able to choose the insurance plan that best meets their needs.

· Myth 2: Health coverage would be provided to individuals residing in the United States illegally. The truth is that people here without legal documentation -- as the president has affirmed frequently -- are not included in any of the health-reform bills under consideration.

There is, however, ongoing debate about how legal immigrants are covered under the plan. Will the current rule that makes legal immigrants wait five years for Medicaid coverage be maintained? After all, the bipartisan bill that reauthorized the state children's health insurance program waived a similar five-year waiting period for legal immigrant pregnant women and children.

Will immigrants who are in the United States legally and meet the applicable criteria be eligible for any government subsidies that become available under the new plan? These immigrants, of course, are already paying federal, state and local taxes here.

· Myth 3: There is no support for a public option plan. A vocal and well-organized minority got lots of attention at town-hall meetings this past summer, decrying "government-run" health care. Dominating the summer's media coverage on reform, this minority left the impression that there is little support for a public insurance option.

That's just not true. Search online for public option poll results and you will find a variety of studies reporting that a firm majority support a public option. A poll by SurveyUSA, an independent polling organization, found that 58 percent thought that including a public option was extremely important, and another 19 percent found that it was quite important, for a total of 77 percent who favor the option. The support was very broad -- 71 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of Democrats, and 71percent of independents said it was extremely or quite important.

The bottom line is that without reform, health costs will continue to skyrocket; 46,000 Americans will continue to die every year because they lack insurance; and the U.S. economy will continue to be burdened with the most expensive and, given its cost, one of the more poorly performing health-care systems in the world. We all need reform now.

Sammie Moshenberg is director of Washington operations for the National Council of Jewish Women, a grass-roots organization that strives to improve the quality of life for women, children and families, as well as to safeguard individual rights and freedoms.

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