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Health reform vote about human life, not politics

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opinion Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
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Health reform vote about human life, not politics
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

In the hours leading up to Sunday's House vote on health care reform my office received thousands of phone calls on the issue. One that stood out was a heartfelt message from Rebecca Wood of Cloquet whose 28-year-old son, Ryan, had died from a preventable heart condition.


In a voice choked with emotion, she explained how he had put off treatment because he could not afford health insurance. He gambled that his financial condition would improve in time to address his heart condition. It was a gamble that he lost.

The bill we passed on Sunday might have saved this young man's life. He could have remained on his parents insurance until he was 26 years old, and his heart condition would likely have been caught and treated in that time. Unfortunately, the Wood family is not alone; more than 44,000 Americans die prematurely each year because they do not have health insurance and cannot afford life saving care. Health care reform is a pro-life issue.

This legislation makes a difference.

Here is what will happen right away: The new law will regulate the insurance industry, banning unethical practices like denying coverage to children based on pre-existing conditions and dropping coverage for people when they get sick. Consumers will not be hammered by double-digit premium increases and lifetime coverage caps will be eliminated. Small businesses will be eligible for new tax credits so they do not have to choose between paying premiums and hiring new workers.

Cutting waste, fraud and abuse will extend the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by nearly a decade and pay for additional benefits for seniors. Next year the new law will start closing the "donut hole" in prescription drug benefits that is costing some seniors thousands of dollars every year. Annual check-ups and preventative screenings will be provided to seniors free of charge.

In 2014 the ban on denying coverage based on preexisting conditions will be extended to protect all Americans and regional health insurance exchanges will begin providing affordable coverage to everyone.

This bill will have a positive impact on the lives of Minnesotans. If you lose your job, you will be able to keep your health insurance or purchase a new plan that you can afford. Here in the 8th District 8,300 people with pre-existing conditions will be able to get coverage, 1,000 families will be saved from bankruptcy because of medical bills, 56,000 young adults will be able to stay on their parents' health insurance, and 185,000 individuals and 16,600 families will receive tax credits and other assistance so they can afford insurance coverage.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office this bill will reduce the federal deficit by $130 billion over the next 10 years and another $1.2 trillion in the second ten years. This reform will not add a single penny to the deficit.

Because I am committed to protecting innocent life, I made certain this bill does not change existing laws that ban the use federal dollars to provide abortions. It also provides an additional $250 million to aid vulnerable pregnant women to assure that they will have the support they need to bring their child into the world. The bill also expands tax credits to help more families adopt children.

Sunday's vote was one of the most politically contentious events of my service in Congress, but it was not about politics. It was about human life and whether or not we have the courage to value it and protect it in the face of political opposition. We've taken action to ensure that more mothers will not have to suffer the pain that Rebecca Wood lives with every day.

Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, is a member of the U.S. House.

Pioneer staff reports