The time for talk is over

According to a recent Harvard study published by the American Journal of Public Health, 44,789 Americans die each year because they have no health coverage. For uninsured Americans, the mortality rate is staggering. In any given year, if you take two Americans who are physically identical — same height, same age, same race, same weight, even same smoking history — and one has health insurance and the other does not, the one without health insurance is 40 percent more likely to die.

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That’s 122 Americans who die every day, simply because they have no health insurance. In the time it takes you to read this paper, one or two more will die. And every one of them could be saved.

I started a website called NamesOfTheDead.com, and asked people to share real-life examples of this horror happening every day. Thousands of people shared their stories. See their simple eloquence for yourself. These are the stories of loved ones lost, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, people who suffered terribly and then died unnecessarily, people who can no longer speak for themselves. People who waited too long to get treatment, because they couldn’t afford it. People who never sought treatment, because it would mean that their spouses and children would be left broke. People who sent us to Washington to help keep them alive and safe. People whom we failed.

These are the stories of America. A painful reality. An inconvenient truth.

I’m sure if we learned that al Qaeda was going to launch an attack and kill 44,789 Americans at any time next year, we would do anything in our power to prevent that. We should do the same thing now about this, because we face the same threat. Death due to lack of healthcare is a less visible threat. It is a threat that has gone on for generations. But it is a threat nevertheless.

The bill that we passed will save those lives. And do a lot more. If you change jobs, you will be able to keep your health coverage. If you lose your job, you’ll be able to keep your health coverage. Most importantly, if you lose your health, you’ll be able to keep your health coverage. You cannot be denied coverage or care because of pre-existing conditions. If you get very ill, and require expensive treatments, your health insurance company won’t be able to cut you off. In other words, this bill offers real coverage, not read-the-fine-print, heads-we-win-tails-you-lose, tough-luck-sucker fake coverage. This bill offers you peace of mind.

President Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech identified the freedoms that we all need for a decent life. One of them is freedom from fear. Healthcare reform offers freedom from fear — the fear that if you get sick, and you can’t afford the treatment, you’ll die. This bill makes that fear history.

This bill also helps people to afford health coverage. For example, if you have a family of four, the government provides help up to an income of about $88,000. You can apply this subsidy to any plan, not only the public option.

If you own a small business, don’t worry. If your payroll is less than $500,000, you are shielded from the requirement to provide health coverage to your employees. If your payroll is more than that, you will need to provide your employees with health coverage that meets the standards above, and the government will help you cover the costs. Eighty percent of all large employers already offer adequate health coverage. The remaining 20 percent should, and now they will.

This bill also offers you an option that you don’t have now, a public option. The greatest barrier to entry in the health insurance market is the cost of establishing a provider network. We, the taxpayers, have spent billions of dollars establishing such a network, the Medicare provider network. It is now closed to seven-eighths of the population. So in many areas, the top one or two insurance companies provide up to 80 percent of the coverage. More competition is desperately needed. The public option opens up the Medicare provider network, and gives people another choice. And no one — no one — will be required to accept the public option; that’s why it is called an option.

Here is what the Affordable Health Care for America Act will not do: It won’t give coverage to illegal aliens. It won’t ration healthcare. It won’t cut Medicare for our seniors. It won’t herd people into the public option. It won’t cap doctors’ salaries. It won’t add one penny to the deficit. 

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Sadly, the commonsense reforms in this bill will not come soon enough for the people listed on NamesOfTheDead.com. But I look forward to a day, soon, when there will be no more names to add to that list.

When I read those moving and sad stories on the floor of the House, I felt, as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, that it was “far above our poor power to add or detract” from them. I gave my time on the floor to the victims of our healthcare system, because “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget” what happened to them. The time for talk is over. “It is for us the living, rather,” as Lincoln so poignantly observed, “to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us.” That task is universal, comprehensive, affordable health care in America. With Americans dying every day because they have no health insurance, it can’t come soon enough.

Grayson is a member of the House Committee on Financial Services.

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