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Grijalva Announces Top Priorities As Conference With Senate on Health Care Reform Approaches

Washington, DC – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, today released the following statement on health care reform.

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As a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I am working to ensure that a final health care reform bill meets our long-standing goal of high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans. Now that the Senate has passed its version of a health care reform bill, it is time to reconcile it with the House legislation.

I and many of my progressive colleagues are calling for a meaningful conference process where the House bill will be given equal consideration, consistent with the equality of both chambers under our Constitution. There are components of the House version that must not be dismissed:

- A Public Option

Progressives have pushed strongly for a robust public option throughout this process for one reason: because all objective analyses have found it to be effective. Economic and health care experts have shown it to be the single best means to create competition in the insurance industry and to save the government hundreds of billions of dollars in the long run. The Congressional Budget Office has scored a public option as a massive benefit to taxpayers and insurance consumers, and it remains the centerpiece of my hope for substantive health care reform. If the bill requires people to buy health insurance, Congress must provide the American people competitive choices.

- Strong and Enforceable Insurance Regulatory Reform

This health care reform effort cannot succeed without addressing the fundamental problems in the insurance industry. Many American citizens are denied health coverage they already paid for, especially when they need it most. Millions more are unable to afford premiums, co-pays and deductibles despite working hard and contributing their fair share to our economy. The marketplace cannot survive this status quo, and neither can the American people. The insurance industry must be regulated in a way that makes coverage affordable, ensures the vast majority of premiums are spent on providing care rather than paying insurance company overhead and salaries, eliminates the industry’s unfair exemption from antitrust laws, and requires review of premium increases.

Creating a national insurance exchange, like the one in the House bill, is necessary to ensure that reform does not fail at the hands of hostile governors, as it could under the state exchanges in the Senate bill. The federal government needs to be directly involved in implementing and enforcing the new exchange.

- Affordability Protection

Government subsidies must be sufficient for lower- and middle-income families and individuals. No reform can be effective if is it paid for out of the millions of nearly empty pockets we are now trying to protect from further risk.

As health care is made more affordable, we must also increase accessibility. Payments to primary care physicians under Medicaid should be raised to ensure that patients have access to a larger number of providers for essential care through this vital program.

- An Employer Mandate

Just as individual mandates must be supported by equitable government subsidies, so too must our employer-based insurance system be reformed to ensure that all employers are required to offer a workable degree of insurance to employees.

- Tax Surcharge

Health care reform should be financed through a surcharge on the very wealthiest among us rather than through a tax on working peoples’ insurance plans. An excise tax on high-quality insurance plans could potentially place great financial hardship on working families who often rely on comprehensive coverage to cover serious illnesses.

I look forward to working with the House and Senate leadership to pass a final bill that will help the most people and create a realistic pathway to future improvements. My support for the ongoing reform effort is predicated on the belief that such a bill is within reach and can be passed in the short term. If a bill with these features is pursued, I will be proud to support it.

As we in Congress move forward into the very last phase of this long, challenging and necessary effort, we consider the lessons of reform efforts past. Small steps are not always the best steps. Opportunities to make a lasting mark do not come along often. This is our opportunity to make a big step forward in this country, and I hope we will seize this chance. The American people are looking to us to govern well. To let this moment slip through our fingers without making substantive improvements while we can would be a truly historic mistake.

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