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Letter to the Senate HELP Committee on the Affordable Health Choices Act

June 15, 2009

Dear Senator:


On behalf of the National Education Association’s (NEA) 3.2 million members, we would like to offer our views on the Affordable Health Choices Act, scheduled for mark-up in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee this week.  We commend the committee for your leadership on health care reform and for putting forward a comprehensive plan to address these most pressing issues.

NEA members know that quality health care is a crucial ingredient for successful public schools, and we remain committed to fighting for health care reform that leads to comprehensive, quality, affordable coverage for all.  We are very pleased that the Affordable Health Choices Act addresses many of the central problems affecting this country’s health care system, including those related to health care affordability, access, and quality.  We also appreciate the legislation’s attention to long-term care and preventive, rehabilitative, and community-based health care services.  NEA also welcomes the Act’s focus on individual and group health insurance market reforms – including guaranteed availability of coverage, prohibition of coverage exclusions based on preexisting conditions, and elimination of lifetime and annual coverage limits.

As the committee moves forward, we would like to raise two issues that, despite our strong support for this bill, we believe merit additional consideration:

  • Guaranteeing health care for all.  We recognize that the Act would do much to expand coverage for the uninsured, but the ultimate success of health care reform requires ensuring that all residents of the United States, its territories, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have access to the type of quality and affordable coverage promoted through this legislation.  Health care reform must ensure that every person in America has quality, affordable health care coverage.  Not only is this a moral imperative, it is a key component of controlling spiraling health care costs.
  • Creation of a public health insurance plan option.  We appreciate that the Act would require state gateways to include a public health insurance plan among other options.  However, we believe that the legislation should define explicitly the type of plan that would be most effective: one established by the federal government, available to individuals and employers around the country, offered alongside private health insurance plans, and competitive on the basis of cost and quality.

Finally, the National Education Association and its members remain strongly opposed to any change in the current tax treatment of employer-sponsored health benefits.  Many public education employees have traded salary increases for the long-term security of a comprehensive health plan.  Telling them benefits will be cut or that they will pay more taxes would unfairly penalize them.  We are also concerned that a health care tax could unfairly penalize hard-working public education employees who, after decades of dedicated service, have climbed to the top of their salary schedules.  In addition, as an organization with a 70 percent female membership, we are concerned that because coverage is more expensive for employers whose workforces are older or female-dominated (such as education), capping or eliminating the tax exclusion for employer sponsored health benefits would place the burden more heavily on some workers than others.  For these and other reasons we call on you to remain supportive of the current tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health care benefits.

We look forward to the opportunity to engage with the committee in greater depth on these, and other, issues.  Thank you for your consideration of our views on these important issues.

Sincerely,

Diane Shust
Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody
Manager of Federal Advocacy