Brown Holds Public Forum on Health Insurance Reform in Cincinnati

Forum Features Panel of Ohioans Struggling with High Health Costs, Access to Care, and Question and Answer Session with Audience

CINCINNATI, OHIO – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today held a public forum on health insurance reform at the University of Cincinnati. During the forum, entitled “Health Insurance Reform – What’s In It for You?”, Brown outlined how health insurance reform will reduce private insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care expenses, while giving all Americans insurance options during periods of unemployment.

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 “Health insurance reform means that all Americans will pay less for health care and be protected against insurance industry practices that limit care or pass along huge out-of-pocket costs to consumers,” Brown said. “The status quo might be working for HMOs, but it’s not working for American families and businesses. That’s why I’m working to pass health insurance reform that puts hardworking Ohioans first, not big insurance companies.”

The forum was opened by Louis Billonis, Dean of the University of Cincinnati Law School. Following a prayer from Pastor Larry Donnor of the Good Shepherd Church in Cincinnati, Brown received testimony from Ohioans struggling with rising health costs and access to medical care. Individuals providing testimony included a small business owner who has seen premiums and deductibles associated with providing insurance to employees spiral upward in recent years; an Ohioan who is employed full time but unable to obtain health insurance due to a pre-existing medical condition; a young Ohioan who is unable to obtain heath insurance due to his medical history; the family member of an Ohioan who had to sell his belongings to pay his for his hospital bills; and the president of Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati. Following the panel discussion, Brown opened the forum for a question and answer session with the audience.

In Ohio, average family health insurance premiums have increased by 92 percent since 2000 while wages have decreased. Ohio families and businesses pay a “hidden tax” of around $1,000 per year – meaning that insurers raise their premiums by an average of $1,000 to subsidize the costs of the uninsured. Nearly 400 Ohioans lose their health insurance each day. Eleven percent of Ohioans are uninsured – 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. The top two health insurance providers in the Cincinnati area account for 85 percent of the health insurance market 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.

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