When it comes to healthcare reform, most Republicans and Democrats agree on many of the key issues: protecting patient choice, promoting portability and providing tax incentives for small businesses and the self-employed.
There is another bipartisan proposal that, if enacted, would make good on the campaign promises of President Barack Obama and numerous congressional leaders — both Republicans and Democrats. Clearly, the time has come to give every American the opportunity to access the same health benefits plan that is available to members of Congress and all federal employees.
The Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) is a system of private insurers that offers 14 nationwide and more than 300 state-specific plans with a wide array of deductible and co-pay options. Like other employer-based health benefits, the premiums are paid by a combination of employee payroll deductions and employer contributions.
FEHBP serves the healthcare needs of Congress and more than 8 million federal workers, retirees and their dependents, making it the single largest insurance pool in the nation. The negotiating and buying power that comes from a network with 8 million enrollees is immense, and federal employees regularly express overall satisfaction with the value and service of their health insurance.
This past summer, I introduced H.R. 3438, titled the Access to Insurance for All Americans Act of 2009, to open access for millions of uninsured Americans to the same healthcare choices that members of Congress have. The bill is simple to implement and low in cost. Since the FEHBP network already exists, adding new participants should prove easy and affordable. To enroll new members, a small initial investment by the federal government will be needed for the first year, after which all costs are covered by member premiums.
Three of the major burdens carried by the uninsured today are the high cost of go-it-alone insurance plans, the concern of denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and limited portability across jobs and state lines. By letting uninsured Americans join a pool already made possible by their tax dollars, their buying power increases and cost reductions would be realized across the board. When it comes to pre-existing conditions, my plan would guarantee coverage regardless of an applicant’s age or health status. Job or location changes will not alter coverage access.
But the primary reason my bill should garner overwhelming bipartisan support is that the idea has been bipartisan from the start.
The late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) addressed his party’s 1980 convention in one of the most rhetorically sophisticated speeches of modern politics. Conceding the nomination to Jimmy Carter after a hard-fought primary, Kennedy intoned: “I say it again, as I have said before, if health insurance is good enough for the president, the vice president, and the Congress of the United States, then it is good enough for all of you and for every family in America.”
Twenty-four years later, then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) spoke to the 2004 Democratic National Convention and said: “Every American should have the same healthcare options, the same price as members of Congress do.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, then running for the Democratic nomination, told Chris Wallace in a 2007 “FOX News Sunday” interview that if she was elected every American would “have the same choices that are available to members of Congress, because we will open up the plan that members of Congress have.”
And during the 2008 presidential debate at Hofstra University, Obama promised to provide every American with “the option of buying into the same kind of federal pool that both Sen. (John) McCain (R-Ariz.) and I enjoy as federal employees.”
With this level of bipartisan support, there is no reason why H.R. 3438 shouldn’t become law. So far, however, my bill has been stalled in committee — seemingly, so that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can mollify the far left with a bill that takes the nation ones step closer to single-payer government-run healthcare.
The American people clearly want healthcare reform, and Congress should not attempt to pass any plan that affects one-fifth of the American economy without considerable bipartisan support. The Access to Insurance for All Americans Act of 2009 would go a long way toward providing dependable, affordable coverage for millions of Americans who have no insurance because their only option is a cost-prohibitive, standalone policy.
It would also reassure American taxpayers that their elected representatives are willing to honor bold campaign promises once the election is over.
Issa is ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.