Health care debate continues in capital

Published 11:03 am Thursday, September 24, 2009

I have received hundreds of e-mails about the national health care debate in Washington, D.C.

As your state senator in Columbus, I will not be voting on this legislation, but whatever happens with health care reform in our nation’s capital over the coming weeks, it will impact each of us individually and our state as a whole.

I will say that Medicaid and Medicare, which are run by the federal government, have a number of problems, and it is clear that something needs to be done to improve both programs and help reduce costs in the system.

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One way to give more Americans the opportunity to obtain health insurance coverage would be for Congress to remove restrictions in federal law that have prevented small businesses and large employers from joining together to purchase insurance and allow more flexibility in the policies that can be sold.

In addition, to lower the price tag of health care in this country, our leaders in Washington must address tort reform and defensive medicine, where doctors order tests to protect themselves against lawsuits.

As the discussion about these and other health care reforms moves forward, I think it is important to update you about several provisions that were inserted in the state budget to give more Ohioans access to health insurance coverage.

For instance, the bill increased eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to include families at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Lawmakers also expanded access to the Children’s Buy-In Program, which allows parents or guardians, who have children with preexisting medical conditions, to purchase insurance coverage at a reduced rate.

In addition, the budget bill made changes to the state’s Open Enrollment Program through the Department of Insurance to help more Ohioans with preexisting conditions acquire health insurance; extended the time that unemployed Ohioans can buy health insurance through their former employer, as part of the federal mini-COBRA law; and increased the age that a dependent child may stay on their parent’s health insurance plan from 24 years old to 28 years old.

My colleagues and I in the Senate have also been discussing several interesting ideas for how the Legislature can help improve access to insurance coverage for Ohioans, enhance the quality of care in the state and reduce health care costs.

Senators are studying the feasibility of entering into a multi-state health insurance compact to help improve consumer quality; discussing ways to collaborate with health insurers and other stakeholders to develop a low-cost policy for individuals and families who are not eligible for Medicaid; and exploring efforts to promote wellness and disease prevention to help reduce costs in the system.

There is also talk of legislation to establish a comprehensive Web site that would not only provide information about the quality, cost and efficiency of health care providers in the state, but give Ohioans the opportunity to give feedback about each provider.

In addition, the Senate Insurance, Commerce & Labor Committee is currently debating Senate Joint Resolution 2, a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by State Sen. Kevin Coughlin, which is designed to protect the right of Ohioans to purchase private health care.

Sen. Coughlin, who is chair of the Senate Health, Human Services & Aging Committee, is also working with State Sen. Eric Kearney (D-Cincinnati) on a bill to address childhood obesity.

I have heard from several constituents who are in dire financial circumstances because of the cost of their medication.

Most Ohioans who fall into that category are adults with no dependents. To help address this issue, I introduced Senate Bill 155 in July, which would provide disability medical assistance for much of this population.

I must ask: Would it be better for each state to develop their own health care policies that could be replicated when they work and ditched when they do not?

Ohio has a legitimate role in the health care debate, as does every other state. Having all our health care decisions dictated to us by Washington is a cause for concern.

I would support a health care plan that empowers Americans to make their own health care choices, while giving states the flexibility to not only assist the federal government in their effort, but explore innovative ways at the state level to expand access to health coverage, improve quality and lower costs.

It appears that Congress and the Obama Administration still have a long way to go in the health care reform debate, but whatever plan they pursue, it will have a tremendous impact on the well-being of Ohio families, the stability of our state’s budget and the future of our health care system.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.