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Rio Grande Guardian

AUSTIN, Nov. 7 - The Texas Public Interest Research Group hailed Congressmen Silvestre Reyes and Ciro Rodriguez for voting for the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

“The pressure on all members of the House from well-funded, anti-reform lobbies was enormous, but Representatives Rodriguez and Reyes chose to do what was right for communities here in Texas,” said Melissa Cubria, on behalf of Austin-based TexPIRG.

As a consumer and good-government group, TexPIRG had decried the insurance industry's $1.4 million a day lobbying campaign against health reform. TexPIRG endorsed the bill, H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, in a letter to Speaker Pelosi on Friday.

In an historic vote on Saturday evening, the House passed the landmark legislation by 220 votes to 215. One Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana voted with the Democratic leadership. Thirty eight Democrats voted against the bill, including Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.

It was probably fitting that U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, was on the podium at the beginning of the debate. To the roars of the crowd he also closed the debate. The veteran lawmaker has been introducing health care reform legislation on the first day of each session since 1955. Before that, his father did the same as a congressman. Between them, the two Dingells have been working on heath care reform since 1932.

“Tonight we can look back at a great accomplishment,” Dingell said.

Congressman Reyes said passage of the House health care reform bill is a “momentous occasion for the American people, particularly for the hundreds of thousands of El Pasoans who have unjustly struggled without health insurance in the world’s wealthiest nation.”

Reyes, D-El Paso, predicted that the Affordable Health Care for America Act, as passed by the House, would “dramatically improve the quality of life for so many families in our community, who will finally have access to quality affordable health coverage.”

He also said the bill is one of the most significant legislative victories for the people of El Paso, claiming it would “dramatically reduce” the number of people without insurance in the county.

“Our community has one of the highest concentrations of America’s uninsured population, with over 230,000 residents without health coverage, one in three people.  Texas has the highest rate of children and adults without health insurance in the entire nation. The status quo is unacceptable, and we can no longer afford to pass this growing problem to future generations,” Reyes said.

Reyes said that while the El Paso community is spending a greater share of property taxes to pay for individuals without health coverage, insurance companies have continued to engage in practices that protect their bottom lines. “For too long, insurers have been the gatekeepers to our health care system, with the power to dictate who receives health coverage and who does not. Americans with pre-existing conditions and serious illnesses are too often denied coverage or are dropped from their existing insurance plans for developing a serious illness or reaching their cap on coverage, and are denied access to the medical care they need,” Reyes said.

Reyes said that when people lack access to quality affordable preventative care, they end up in the emergency rooms for ailments that could have been treated by a family doctor or seek treatment for conditions that should have been diagnosed earlier. 

“When these patients fail to pay their medical bills from publicly-financed hospitals such as University Medical Center, local property taxes are used to cover these expenses.  Since 1998, El Paso property tax payers have spent over $400 million to pay for treatment and services for those patients who could not afford to pay their medical bills,” Reyes pointed out.

A key provision in the bill, Reyes said, is prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage due to ‘pre-existing conditions.’ The bill also requires that every American obtain health coverage, and provides ‘affordability credits’ to individuals and families with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $43,430 for individuals and $88,200 for a family of four), he said.

The legislation also requires that most employers provide coverage, Reyes said, pointing out that there are exemptions for small businesses with payrolls of less than $500,000. he said there will be generous tax credits for those small businesses that elect to provide coverage for their employees. 

The bill also creates an ‘insurance exchange,’ that will offer affordable health insurance plans for individuals without employer-provided or government-provided insurance (such as Medicaid and Medicare), Reyes said. “This exchange will include a public option to encourage competition with private insurers to keep prices low for consumers,” Reyes said.

Reyes said the bill also brings “much needed relief and peace of mind” for those who do have insurance coverage, as all Americans will no longer have to worry about the possibility of financial ruin due to a serious illness. “It caps annual out-of-pocket expenses at $10,000 for families and $5,000 for individuals, and prohibits insurance companies from imposing lifetime limits on an individual’s coverage,” Reyes said.

Reyes pointed out that local community leaders have expressed their support for health insurance reform, and that both the City and the County have passed unanimous resolutions in support of reform.  He also pointed out the Affordable Health Care for America Act has been endorsed by over 300 national organizations and associations, including the AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Consumers Union, the Catholic Health Association, and many other medical professional organizations.

"The passage of this landmark legislation by the House of Representatives is an historic achievement and reflects the commitment and determined leadership of President Obama and the Democratic Congress to follow through on a key promise to help middle class families, who have endured years of rising medical costs,” Reyes said. “I commend my colleagues for their determination to pass this truly historic legislation that will lower health care costs for all Americans, and strengthen our country’s financial future.”

Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, represents more of the Texas-Mexico border region than any other congressman. He said the vote was “historic” for the U.S. House because the reforms are among the most sweeping to the nation’s health care system in decades.

“Although it wasn’t an easy decision, I did vote for the bill despite its imperfections because this is change we need. In the end, we can’t make the perfect the enemy of the good, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve it as it continues through the legislative process,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said that for weeks, he has met with and heard from thousands of constituents throughout the 23rd Congressional District who were concerned about how the House bill was going to affect them.

“Workers, parents, seniors, veterans, young people and business owners voiced the same question: ‘Why now and why this bill?’” Rodriguez said. “The answer is that this bill delivers big on key items that will benefit all of us, whether we live in a big metropolis or a small, rural community.”

Rodriguez said that under the House bill citizens can keep their own health insurance. He said prescription drugs will be cheaper and there will not be any more co-payments for routine testing. Small businesses will get tax credits to help them offer insurance under the bill, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the Medicare “doughnut hole” that has afflicted so many seniors will finally be closed. And, he said, the deficit will be reduced by $109 billion over the next ten years.

“In addition, H.R. 3962 injects more accountability into the system by attacking fraud and waste,” Rodriguez said. “It will ensure that people with pre-existing conditions get needed coverage, something often denied them currently by some insurance companies. And, importantly for the 23rd Congressional District, we fought for and got concessions that allow providers to better serve our rural communities.”

Rodriguez said there is no better way to invest in the nation than by keeping Americans “healthy, productive and secure.” He said without a foundation for strong healthcare, “our students don’t succeed in school and our workforce can’t compete in a global economy that is more competitive than ever. We will fall behind.”

Rodriguez said an unhealthy America is an expensive America. “The longer we wait to fix that, the worse off we are. The Affordable Health Care for America Act is just that, affordable health care for the people of our great nation.”

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