Shaheen praises reform of nation's health care

March 30, 2010

The effects of health care reform will help Granite Staters immediately, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said yesterday.

Shaheen spoke at a press conference at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinic in Concord attended by several dozen health care advocates and analysts.

"We've been trying to do this for about 70 years," Shaheen said. "Within six months, individuals in New Hampshire will benefit from insurance market reforms that will end the practices that are hardest for people in the insurance industry."

Shaheen pointed to several provisions that will go into effect in the next year:

  • Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.
  • Parents will be able to keep children on their health care policies until they are 26 years old.
  • Adults with pre-existing conditions will be able to buy into a high-risk insurance pool.
  • There will no longer be lifetime limits on benefits.
  • Seniors on Medicare will be covered for preventive care.
  • Low-income Medicare beneficiaries will get discounts on drugs that fall within the "doughnut hole," a gap in coverage for prescription drugs once a patient spends more than is included in basic coverage but has not reached the level for catastrophic coverage.

"It will make health care more affordable for those who need it most," Shaheen said.

Rachel Rouillard spoke at the event as her 4-year-old son, Will, played under the speakers' table. Will was born with an abnormality in his lymphatic system and requires yearly surgeries to remove cysts from his body.

"When he will no longer be on our insurance, I worried about his ability to have a home, support a family, what devastating crushing medical costs may do to him in the future," Rouillard said.

She said the reform bill, which by 2014 will no longer allow insurance companies to discriminate against anyone based on pre-existing conditions, let her "breathe a huge sigh of relief."

Medicare recipient Sandra Burt talked about struggling to obtain a drug for her autoimmune disease that costs nearly $10,000, which she cannot afford on a limited income.

Dr. Nancy Van Vranken, a Dartmouth-Hitchcock pediatrician, talked about seeing 18-year-olds who struggle to afford health care for diabetes or mental health problems once they lose their parents' coverage. Families with children with special health needs, she said, will lose the constant fear that their children will lose coverage.

"Every child deserves access to ongoing coordinated medical care," Van Vranken said.

Asked whether insurance companies would raise rates before many of the provisions go into effect, Shaheen cited pending legislation in the Senate that would set up a commission to review health insurance rate increases and determine whether they are excessive.

She also cited a new requirement that insurance companies use 80 to 85 percent of money from premiums to fund health care, not administrative costs.

Ryan Williams, spokesman for the state Republican Party, said after the event that Shaheen ignored the way the bill is paid for, which includes fines for businesses that do not offer health insurance to employees and a change in a tax break that had been given to companies offering health benefits to retirees.

"Senator Shaheen glossed over the impact of the new job-killing taxes included in this fiscally irresponsible law," Williams said.

Shaheen said the bill is fully paid for with taxes on upper-income individuals and savings from within the health care system.

By:  Shira Schoenberg
Source: Concord Monitor