Congressman John Garamendi

Representing the 3rd District of California
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Contra Costa Times: Patients' rights vs. insurance discrimination

January 15, 2011
Notebook

By John Garamendi and George Miller

Op-ed originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times.

NEXT WEEK, the House of Representatives will take up legislation to deny you access to the same type of health insurance that members of Congress enjoy. That's hypocritical and unfair.

While most Americans are concerned about creating more jobs and strengthening the economy, the top priority of the new Republican majority in the House is eliminating your new health care rights and benefits.

They want to repeal the historic patient's bill of rights that we enacted last year and replace it with the insurance industry's right to discriminate. That's bad news for children, women, seniors and our economy. If the patient's bill of rights is repealed, people in Contra Costa and Solano counties and throughout California will be irreparably harmed.

For instance, there's a severely disabled young woman in Walnut Creek who had high-risk surgery last year. If repeal passes, insurers will once again be able to deny her coverage. And a woman from Martinez has a daughter who was born with epilepsy and would reach her lifetime benefits at age four. The health care law will help keep her alive. They are just two of millions of Californians who depend on the benefits of the health care law.

If Republicans succeed in repealing the health care law, insurance companies will have the power to:

  • Drop coverage for women who become pregnant or get cancer.
  • Deny care to children with pre-existing conditions.
  • Stop allowing young people under the age of 26 to be covered under their parents' plan.
  • Raise premiums any time by any amount without being held accountable.

Seniors might have the most to lose from repeal, which is why the AARP vehemently opposes repeal. This year, seniors in the Medicare Part D prescription drug "donut hole" start receiving a 50 percent discount on name-brand prescription drugs. With every passing year, we're gradually closing the donut hole completely. Through the patient's bill of rights, seniors can now get free preventive screenings so doctors can catch problems early -- helping to save lives and money.

The House Republicans' plan will force millions of seniors to make losing choices -- prescription drugs or their rent; medicine or their heating bill. We all deserve to retire with dignity, and putting seniors in harm's way to reward wealthy insurance company CEOs is wrong.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office just reported that repeal would increase the budget deficit by $230 billion over the next 10 years. Repeal takes the deficit in the wrong direction, raising it and imposing an unnecessary hardship on our children and generations to come.

The horror stories we've heard of patients losing life and limb because of insurers' greed could fill many editions of this newspaper. In 2007, 62 percent of bankruptcies in this country were due to health care costs.

The patient's bill of rights offers American consumers the most significant new protections in generations and restores their power to make critical health care decisions. Repealing the law would lead to more runaway rate hikes, more patients denied lifesaving procedures, and more seniors forced into poverty to pay for essential medication.

You can count on us to vote against repeal. But you can also count on Republicans in Congress to use every opportunity to try to take away your right to control your own health care and grant the insurance industry the right to discriminate against you.

Instead of hypocritically trying to deny you the same type of health insurance that they have, Republican members of Congress should join us to work on creating more jobs and reducing the deficit -- just like they promised to do in last year's campaign.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.