Even as the U.S. Senate was preparing to pass its version of health care reform, the national coalition Health Care for America Now (HCAN) launched an intensive campaign calling for public option and other measures in the final bill that will be sent back to the House and Senate in the new year.
A conference committee will consider the provisions of the two versions of health care reform passed by the House and Senate in the last months, and come back with one bill that must then pass both bodies. Republican leadership, which has led a vicious attack on health care reform all year, continues to oppose passage.
The message from 50 national labor, civil rights, faith based and economic justice organizations is direct: "Make good health care affordable," and "Hold insurance companies accountable." Click here: A call to "finish reform right" has been sent across the country seeking signatures of organizations and individuals around these principles.
In order to make good health care affordable, the letter states that, "low and middle income families must be able to afford health insurance if they do not get it through work, and employers must be asked to provide good health coverage for their employees so health care is affordable at work. Health reform should not be paid for by taxing our health care benefits." The letter calls for holding insurance companies accountable as its second point.
"If the insurance companies win, we lose. Insurance companies must be held accountable with strong regulations and consumer protections, and we must be given the choice of a national public health insurance option available on day one." In an e-mail message from HCAN, Levana Layendecker emphasizes that "this last chance demands unprecedented effort, so we're pulling out all the stops....We must all speak with one voice and demand quality, affordable health care for all if we're going to win."
The campaign by HCAN seeks to remedy the lack of a public option and the inclusion of taxes on health care benefits in the Senate bill. The Senate bill ends denials by insurance companies for "pre-existing conditions," and makes health insurance more affordable and extends coverage to 31 million people. However, it includes an individual mandate with no public option, and has restrictions on abortion coverage.
Following passage, the National Women's Law Center called for a "big fight to make the final health reform legislation that is signed by the president one that truly works for women." The National Immigration Law Center is asking support for inclusion of immigrants in health care reform by enabling states to "remove a harsh five-year waiting period that prevents legal immigrants from accessing Medicaid." Within Congress, members of the Progressive Caucus are speaking out against watering down the House bill, which includes public option.
The HCAN effort seeks to unite all health care advocates including those who have supported nothing less than single-payer in this "last chance" to influence the health care reform outcome in 2010 as a first step forward.
No Republicans voted for the Senate bill, even after the public option was stripped out with the threat of filibuster from Sen. Joe Lieberman and some conservative Democrats..
In the House, only one Republican voted for health care reform. A group of Democrats joined with Republicans in the House to vote no. Most are part of the Blue Dog Caucus, representing traditionally Republican districts.
The challenge the conference committee faces is evident in the House and Senate votes, which underscores the urgency of a strong united message from the grass roots to "finish reform right."