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Letter to President Obama on Health Care Priorities

March 03, 2009

Dear President Obama:

The National Education Association commends you for placing health care reform at the top of your agenda and for convening a Summit on Health Care to examine this critical issue.  Our 3.2 million members, including teachers, education support professionals, and higher education faculty, have long been strong supporters of the need for access to quality, affordable and comprehensive health care coverage for all residents of the United States. 

While health care reform is vital to the recovery of our nation’s economy, it is also a crucial ingredient for successful public schools.  NEA members know firsthand that the lack of necessary medical and dental services for children and students of all ages creates a serious impediment to the learning process.  In addition, families with access to a regular source of medical care are more likely to keep the entire family healthy and create a better learning environment within the home.  By helping public schools attract and retain top-quality educators, health care benefits also play an important role in ensuring great public schools for all students.  When school nurses become primary care providers, as happens all too frequently today, we’re well past the time for health care reform. 

NEA believes that health care reform must:

1. Guarantee coverage for the uninsured, currently estimated at 45 million individuals, including 9 million children;

2. Control costs so that premiums and health care services are affordable to all, regardless of income or employment status;

3. Incorporate provisions and standards related to medical safety and quality;

4. Result in comprehensive health care coverage that includes but is not limited to medical, surgical, hospital, behavioral health, prescription drug, dental, vision, hearing, and long-term care services and allows choice of providers;

5. Include preventive, wellness, rehabilitative, and disease management programs;

6. Make use of health information technology to reduce medical errors and administrative costs.

We recognize that there are many ways that health care reform could attempt to achieve the broad goals outlined above, but we also know that some proposals under discussion could ultimately be more harmful than helpful.  For that reason, NEA also believes that reform must:

  • Ensure the availability and security of employment-based health benefit plans.  The employment-based system is a proven and effective way for workers and their employers to mutually agree upon the health benefit packages that make the most sense for them.  Health care reform must not disrupt this system.
  • Guarantee that the employee tax exclusion for health benefits is not limited or capped in any way.  Over the course of their careers, many public education employees have traded salary increases for the long term security of a comprehensive health plan.  Telling hard-working employees that benefits will be cut or that they will pay more taxes would unfairly penalize them.  A tax on salaries above a certain amount would also be unfair to experienced educators who, after decades of dedicated service, have climbed to the top of their salary schedules.  Limiting or capping the tax exclusion for health benefits could have a disastrous effect on public education by discouraging highly qualified workers from entering or staying in the profession. 
  • Maintain the ability of workers and employers to determine the appropriate level of health care benefits available to both active and retired employees, including the ability to negotiate above any basic benefit plan floor that might be legislated.
  • Recognize and accommodate the specific circumstances of public sector employers, including their tax status.  For example, reform proposals that include employer incentives to encourage continuation of employer-sponsored health care benefits should be mirrored in the public and private sectors.
  • Ensure that health care benefits are available through a current or former employer, a government-sponsored program such as Medicare, Medicaid, or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and/or a new initiative that would meet the goals outlined here.  To ensure coverage of those who need it, NEA would support the creation of a well-funded public plan with comprehensive benefits intended for individuals and for small employers who do not currently offer health care benefits to their employees.

We thank you for your consideration of our views on these very important issues.  We look forward to working with your Administration to ensure quality, affordable health care for everyone in America


Dennis Van Roekel


House Ways and Means Committee
House Energy and Commerce Committee
House Education and Labor Committee
Senate Finance Committee
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee