Nurses urge Senate to reject Price nomination

Warning that health care in the US will deteriorate badly if the Senate confirms the nomination of Rep. Tom Price to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services, National Nurses United (NNU) a union of 185,000 registered nurses, urged the Senate to reject Price’s nomination.

“If confirmed, it is clear that Rep. Price will pursue policies that substantially erode our nation’s health and security – eliminating health coverage, reducing access, shifting more costs to working people and their families, and throwing our most sick and vulnerable fellow Americans at the mercy of the health care industry,” wrote Deborah Burger and Jean Ross, co-presidents of NNU, to members of the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions.

Burger and Ross cited Rep. Price’s record of supporting steep cuts to Medicaid, the privatization of Medicare, and his opposition to key features of the Affordable Health Care Act designed to make health care coverage accessible to low- and middle-income workers, who don’t have health care coverage through their employer.

Rep. Price’s vision of what US health care should look like is embodied in a piece of unsuccessful legislation that he sponsored–the Empowering Patients First Act. As leader of the health and human services department, he will be positioned to lead efforts to realize his vision.

His bill was first introduced in 2009 as a possible alternative to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and has been introduced in but not passed by each subsequent session of Congress.

In 2009, the Congressional Budget Office analyzed Price’s bill and determined that ten years after the legislation was enacted 2 million fewer people would have health insurance than before its was enacted.

Under Price’s plan, health care insurance would be too costly for many working class people.

The bill’s main feature is a tax credit for those who purchase health insurance. Unfortunately, the tax credit is insufficient.

The tax credit would be $2000 a year for individuals or $4000 for a married couple. Families with a child or children would receive a tax credit of $500 for each of the first two children.

A family of four then would receive about $400 a month in tax credits to cover health insurance premiums, far short of what it cost to pay for a health care plan health care plan that provides even a minimal amount of protection for families.

Currently under Obamacare, insurance premiums for a silver plan in the state Texas, a plan that pays 70 percent of health care expenses, on average costs $276 a month.

The total cost of that premium is $785, but the family is eligible for federal tax credit worth $509.

If Price’s plan were in effect, that same family would pay $369 a month after receiving the tax credit, a 34 percent increase over the amount that the same family pays under Obamacare.

Price’s plan also would make it more difficult for people with a pre-existing medical condition such as diabetes to get health care coverage.

Currently Obamacare requires insurers to accept customers who have a pre-existing condition. Price’s plan doesn’t. Instead, it would provide the the states financial assistance to help pay for high risk insurance pools through which people with pre-existing conditions could purchase insurance.

But experience shows that insurance purchased through high risk pools is expensive and out of reach for many.

According to a study published by the Center for American Progress in 2008 before Obamacare became law, “We already know that existing state-based high risk pools can’t provide affordable coverage for nearly enough of the medically needy who have no other options.

“High risk pools have been around for over 30 years and currently exist in 35 states, but they only cover about 207,000 Americans. The biggest barrier to enrollment is cost. High risk pools are inevitably expensive because all of the enrollees have medical conditions that could potentially result in costly medical bills.”

There are other barriers to coverage in Price’s legislation. Low-income workers who currently qualify for Medicaid would no longer do so under Price’s plan, and Price’s legislation would reduce payments to hospitals that treat people who are poor and don’t have health care insurance.

Price also supports a practice called “balanced billing,” in which doctors and hospitals bill patients for charges that exceed the amount paid by insurance plans. These charges can be and often are quite expensive.

Medicare currently bans balanced billing, but Price supports lifting this ban.

“(Lifting the ban on balanced billing) would greatly increase provider and physician revenues,” writes Ryan Cooper in The Week, and expose many seniors to “medical debt induced bankruptcy.”

In calling for the Senate to reject Rep. Price’s nomination, the nurses union also called on the country’s leaders to take steps to insure that all Americans have access to health care.

“Instead of rolling back the protections we currently have, NNU has long advocated that we strengthen, improve, and expand our public Medicare system to cover all Americans,” wrote Burger and Ross in their letter to senators. “That is the type of system in place throughout the developed world that is the best, most cost effective way to guarantee health care for all, reduce overall costs, and sharply cut administrative waste that is endemic to private insurance.”

“As nurses know from the patients we care for every day, without health, there is no security. We cannot risk the very real consequences of Rep. Price’s reckless disregard for the health of our patients and our nation,” Burger and Ross concluded.

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