CAMBRIDGE, OHIO – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a forum today at Southeastern Ohio Regional Medical Center in Cambridge entitled “Health Insurance Reform – What’s In It for You?”.

Sen. Brown at the Round Table“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.”

Brown was joined today by hospital administrators and health officials from more than nine counties, including Guernsey, Washington, Coshocton, Tuscarawas, Harrison, Belmont, Muskingum, Perry, and Morgan counties.

Brown received testimony from Ohioans struggling with rising health costs and access to medical care. Providing testimony was a small business leader from Cambridge, who has seen premiums and deductibles associated with providing insurance to employees skyrocket in recent years, preventing the company from offering raises to employees; a Cambridge man who lost his job, seen his COBRA run out, and now faces difficulty obtaining insurance for him and his wife due to pre-existing medical conditions; and a retired Marietta teacher who has seen the premiums to cover her self-employed husband rise by 650 percent upon her retirement.

Sen. Brown and AdministratorsIn 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, a decrease of 5 percent since 2000. Businesses also pay high costs to cover their employees, due to limited choice of health insurance in Ohio. The top two health insurance providers account for 58 percent of the health insurance market in Ohio.

Brown, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, outlined how health insurance reform will reduce private insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care expenses, while giving all Americans more affordable, better quality 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 policyholder 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 so long as the policyholder pays premiums in full.

Brown’s 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 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 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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