Health care reform gained new momentum this week. Wednesday, July 15, the Senate HELP committee passed a version of the bill that closely fits President Obama’s main principles for reform. The same day, House Democrats announced the introduction of their own health reform and its referral to three major committees who finalize the bill.

July 16, the American Medical Association announced its endorsement of the bill. ‘We pledge to work with the House committees and leadership to build support for passage of health reform legislation to expand access to high quality, affordable health care for all Americans,’ wrote AMA CEO Michael D. Maves in a letter to House ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y. The AMA claims approximately one-fifth of the country’s practicing and retired doctors.

In related news, United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard also announced his organization’s backing for the bill. The USW had previously only supported the single-payer plan offered by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. In addition to praising the House bill for creating ‘a high quality public health insurance plan option that will bring real competition for private insurance,’ Gerard indicated support for the bill’s industry reforms that will disallow denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions and other discriminatory practices and its expansion of pre-Medicare insurance to retirees over 55.

‘The legislation meets President Obama’s goals to control runaway health care costs, offering all Americans real choices for expanded access to quality health care,’ Gerard stated.

Small business owner Kelly Conklin, co-owner of Foley-Waite Associates, Bloomfield, NJ, described the current health system as ‘an administrative nightmare’ for himself and saw a huge financial benefit for his business if reform passes.

Conklin, who has owned his business for 31 years and works with the Main Street Alliance, a national organization of small business owners who back President Obama’s health reform proposals, said, ‘When we access health insurance, the system is so fractured and inefficient, that very often it causes as much harm as it addresses.’

Urging swift action on passage of the reform package, Conklin expressed strong support of the House bill’s inclusion of a surcharge on the wealthiest one percent of Americans as a funding mechanism and strongly endorsed the inclusion of a public option in both the Senate and House bills.

Public option

Now that the health reform bill has entered House committees for debate and amendment, a clearer picture of how the public option will work is emerging. According to information provided on the House Labor and Education Committee’s website, the public insurance program would be part of an insurance exchange that also would include a variety of private plans.

Individuals and families who choose the public plan will pay premiums based on a sliding scale tied to their household incomes. Those between 133 percent and 400 percent will be eligible for subsidies for the public insurance program totaling no more than 11 percent of their income. In effect, individuals earning $43,000 or less, or families bringing in $88,000 or less will be eligible, the committee website stated.