YOUNGSTOWN, OH – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) this evening launched the 2009-10 Center for Working-Class Studies Lecture Series at Youngstown State University. In a speech entitled “The Health Care Crisis and Working-Class Communities,” Brown discussed how health insurance reform will lower costs and improve medical care for working families across Ohio. 

“Ohioans who work hard and play by the rules are being squeezed by big insurance companies who care more about profits than people,” Brown said. “Health insurance reform will protect American families and businesses against insurance industry practices that limit care or pass along huge out-of-pocket costs to consumers. The status quo might be working well for the health insurance industry, but it’s at the expense of working Ohioans. That’s why I’m working to pass health insurance reform that puts the middle class first.”

Earlier this week, Brown hosted a public forum in Cincinnati entitled “Health Insurance Reform – What’s In It for You?” where he received testimony from Ohioans struggling with rising health costs and access to medical care. Following the panel discussion, Brown took questions from the audience.

In Ohio, average family health insurance premiums have increased by 92 percent since 2000 while wages have stagnated. It is estimated that Ohio families and businesses pay a “hidden tax” of around $1,000 per year on their health insurance premiums to compensate for the costs of caring for the uninsured.  Nearly 400 Ohioans lose their health insurance each day. Eleven percent of Ohioans are uninsured, and 64 percent of them are in families with at least one full-time worker.

High health costs are also undermining the competitiveness of Ohio businesses. While small businesses make up 72 percent of Ohio businesses, only 47 percent of them offered health coverage benefits in 2006. Businesses also pay high costs to cover their employees, due to limited choice of health insurance in Ohio.

Brown, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, outlined how health insurance reform will reduce private insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care expenses, while giving all Americans more affordable private and public insurance options during periods of unemployment.

Health insurance reform includes the following protections for consumers against abusive practices by some insurance companies:

• No Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurers will no longer be able to refuse coverage based on medical history.
• No Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurers will have to limit the charges they pass along to consumers each year in out-of-pocket costs.
• No Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care: Insurers must fully cover regular checkups and tests that help prevent illness.
• No Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill: Insurers can no longer drop policyholders or water down their insurance if they become seriously ill.
• No Gender Discrimination
• No Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage: Insurers will no longer be able to place yearly or lifetime caps on the medical care you receive.
• Extended Coverage for Young Adults: Young adults would be eligible to stay on their family’s plan through the age of 26.
• Guaranteed Insurance Renewal: Insurers can no longer refuse to renew a policy as long as the policyholder pays premiums in full.

The HELP Committee passed a health insurance reform bill with bipartisan input. More than 160 Republican amendments were accepted. Brown supports health insurance reform that includes the following elements:

• Guarantees choice of plan for consumers (which includes keeping current coverage) while providing consumers new, more affordable private and public insurance options;
• Reduces health care costs through market competition, stronger preventive services, better quality of care, and steps to root out fraud and abuse;
• Strengthens prevention and wellness programs for millions of Americans;
• Modernizes the health system and expands the health care workforce by investing in training for medical professionals and by better coordinating patient care;
• Improves long term care and services for elderly and disabled Americans.