Health care reform — at last!

Achieving it seemed at times like an insurmountable task, but after a great national debate that grew ugly at times, America finally has a health care reform plan in place. And although it is far from perfect and has detractors on all sides of the political spectrum, it does reflect some core values of a modern democracy in terms of how we as a nation care for the young, the old, the sick and the needy.

Quality health care will no longer be out of reach to millions of Americans who can’t afford insurance, lose it because of illness or unemployment, or are denied it because of pre-existing medical conditions or poverty.

No longer will people have to face foreclosure or bankruptcy because of medical hardships that beset so many of us sooner or later.

The cap on lifetime payouts that insurance companies arbitrarily impose strictly as a business decision is a relic of the past. And closed at last will be the infamous “doughnut hole” that swallows the savings of so many of our retired members who require Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Low-income households will get tax credits to buy health insurance at a cost based on a sliding scale. State-based health exchanges will be established to ease pressure on small businesses. Self-employed individuals and those who don’t get coverage through their employers will have it within reach. No longer forced into trying to get by without being financially wiped out by accident or disease, young people who are perhaps victims of a rough economy or hard times will be able to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.

Our in-service members will see little change either now or in the future. Almost none will see a higher charge for their choice of health plan options. The threshold for such a charge, a so-called “Cadillac tax,” would apply only to a very small group of subscribers citywide that choose to participate in plans like Aetna QPOS, CIGNA HMO, and Empire EPO, which have quite expensive optional rider costs. Even for these subscribers, under the proposed law the tax will not take effect until 2018.

Not only is the health care reform package the kind of legislation with a heart that befits a humane society, it is also projected to reduce by $1.3 trillion the federal deficit over the next 20 years. Millions of Americans, including a large proportion of union members, worked intensely to get the word out and persuade members of Congress of the wisdom and efficacy of this historic plan.

The health care reform law is not ideal and certainly won’t please everyone. For example, although we had hoped to eliminate the effective date of the excise tax on all Americans, we succeeded only in delaying it until 2018. However, 85 percent of the tax on health care benefits was quashed, and a progressive tax will be levied only on the wealthiest Americans, mandating that Medicare contributions be paid on unearned income.

The new law, despite its shortcomings, is definitely overall a positive step toward comprehensive health care access and affordability for all Americans.

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