Letter to the Editor Guide (2/22/10)
Your letter to the editor can help educate other Texans, get the attention of members of Congress, and encourage the newspaper to cover more health reform stories. You can cover several media outlets at once by submitting your letter(s) via Stand Up For Health Care’s letter to the editor tool.
• Letters to the Editor ideally (1) address a single idea and (2) do not exceed 150 words.
• If your letter is inspired by a recent article, editorial, or another letter, you should mention that at the beginning of your letter. That can help get it printed.
If you have a special issue or personal story to tell, it can make a great letter. Or, if you want some facts or inspiration for a letter, we have provided below a list of topics and facts that you can use in writing your own letter.
Remember the guidelines above, which most papers stick to, but you should feel free to re-word these samples or just write your own from scratch!
1. Texans Should Learn about Health reform
- A January Kaiser Foundation poll found Americans squarely divided on national health reform, at first glance.
- But the poll also found that large proportions of Americans are unaware of the major provisions of heath reform bills, and their support increases dramatically when told about tax credits to help small businesses cover their employees, health insurance exchanges where consumers can compare options and buy coverage; closing the Medicare drug benefit “doughnut hole,” and outlawing denials and rate hikes because of pre-existing conditions.
- The legislative process and media coverage have not educated the average Texan about the basic building blocks of proposed reforms. Whether it is Consumer Reports, the AARP, or your church that you trust for reliable facts, every Texan needs to get informed—and not from chain emails or talk radio.
- With 6.1 million uninsured, Texas has too much at stake in the health reform debate state to allow this debate to continue without people learning the facts.
2. Immediate Benefits of Reform
Here are 5 amazing benefits of national health reform that will take effect either right away, or during the first year after a bill is signed.
(1) No lifetime benefit caps would be allowed in commercial insurance plans within six months from bill passage. Annual caps would also be restricted right away, and banned outright in 2014.
(2) No more pre-existing condition exclusions for kids would be allowed.
(3) Insurers will have to spend at least 80 to 85 percent of premiums on medical care, or pay you back if they don’t.
(4) Commercial insurance would have to eliminate co-payments for check-ups and immunizations for babies and children within 6 months.
(5) Dependents could stay covered up to their 27th birthday.
3. Another Angle on Immediate Benefits
In the very first year, the U.S. Senate’s national health reform bill would make major changes to help Texans who have health conditions and are struggling to keep or pay for health insurance.
- First, the bill will prohibit “rescission”—when an insurer cancels your health policy retroactively because you used it—except in cases of fraud.
- For people denied coverage because of medical conditions, it would create a new high-risk pool nationwide that is more affordable than Texas’ current high-risk pool, and unlike our pool has no pre-existing condition waiting periods.
- The bill also increases access to community health centers, investing billions right away to start new clinics and expand existing health centers.
Add your comment here about the current system denying care to those who need it most, the need for change- or use something like this: “No one gets to choose whether they will be injured or have a major illness. I want my family to have the security that if they pay a fair price, they will not be bankrupted by health care costs.”
4. Medicare Improvements
Some commercial health insurers are sending scary letters to seniors saying health reform would cut their Medicare. Seniors need to get facts from reliable sources—not chain emails.
- Here is the truth: major improvements to Medicare in the Senate bill include adding coverage of a comprehensive annual check-up and other prevention benefits with no out-of-pocket costs.
- The bill keeps the Medicare Trust Fund solvent 5 years longer than current law, not with benefit cuts but by slowing Medicare spending growth from 88% to “just” 67% over the decade.
- Medicare today does not cover community care to help seniors remain at home, but the bill creates a new voluntary program to provide these supports.
- And, the Senate would shrink the drug “Doughnut Hole” by $500 in 2010 and provide a 50% discount for brand-name drugs in the gap.
Health reform takes real steps to help seniors right now, and to save Medicare in the long run.
5. Budget Reconciliation
- Since the Massachusetts special election, there has been a lot of talk about using Budget Reconciliation as one part of a two-part process to get national health reform across the finish line.
- Critics of this strategy seem to be unaware that Budget Reconciliation was used to pass many of the most important pieces of legislation over the last 20 years, notably including the 1996 welfare reforms, Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, and the creation of COBRA and CHIP.
- Moreover, if health reform is pursued through the reconciliation process this year, the resulting legislation — unlike the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 — will be required by law to not add to the federal deficit.
- It’s an effective and appropriate tool for passing the health reform that Texas badly needs.
6. Don’t Let the Perfect be Enemy of the Very Good
- Pollsters report that many who oppose health reform think Congress’ proposals don’t go far enough.
- Texans who want a health care system that provides decent affordable care for everyone should recall that every major piece of American social law to date has passed with significant flaws and was subsequently amended. Social Security initially excluded homemakers and agricultural workers. Medicare has been amended almost yearly by Congress.
- The laws that created both programs were vigorously opposed by major factions in their time. But even though Social Security and Medicare will need continual modernization to meet changing needs and remain solvent, they have transformed the lives of American seniors and there is no serious support for ending either program.
- Health reform will be no different. The best bill Congress can pass will never be perfect, but it will set us on the path to making decent health care affordable for all.
7. All Major American Change Has Faced Opposition
- Americans have a hard time embracing change, no matter how beneficial. One in four Texans—and one in three working-age adults—in Texas has no health insurance, yet (insert name of elected official opposing reform) rejects congressional reform bills along party lines.
- Ken Burns’ recent PBS series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” reminds us that California, Arizona, and Wyoming fought bitterly to prevent the creation of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone National Parks. Today, it is impossible to imagine America without them.
- I hope for a day soon when we can no longer imagine the time when we did not guarantee a decent standard of health care for all—just as we cannot imagine child labor, slavery, segregation, and denial of the vote to women and people of color.
8. Reform Means Good Coverage at a Fair Price for All
If you have a personal, family or friend’s story to share, you can highlight any one of the reforms below and explain in your letter how that reform would help the person in your story.
- Under the U.S. Senate’s health reform, starting in 2014 no one could be turned down or cancelled for a new insurance policy, or charged more because of their health history, nor could a health plan not cover your care for a pre-existing condition. No more annual or lifetime dollar caps on health benefits will be allowed.
- In 2014, a new Health Insurance Exchange will start up where uninsured Texans can compare and buy private insurance, like Amazon or Travelocity for insurance.
- Health coverage in the Exchange could never be denied to you or priced based on your health history, gender or occupation, and would have to meet minimum benefit standards.
- The oldest person could not be charged more than 3 times the youngest, compared to Texas law today that allows premiums to vary by 25 to 1 or more.
- For those who mistrust for-profit insurance, the Senate bill would require that at least one non–profit health plan be offered in every state’s Exchange.
9. Affordable Coverage for Texans of Modest Means
- Nearly nine out of ten of the 6.1 million uninsured Texans have family incomes below four times the federal poverty income level (400% FPL, or $88,200 for family of 4). For these families and individuals, even a fair premium for insurance is unaffordable without some kind of help.
- To help these Texans, in 2014 under the Senate bill Texas would start to cover all U.S. citizen adults up to just above the federal poverty line in Medicaid, and offer sliding-scale help with premiums and out-of-pocket for families between Medicaid and four times the poverty line, or about $88,200 for family of 4.
- About 1 million currently-uninsured Texas adults would qualify for new Medicaid coverage, and another 2.3 million uninsured Texans of all ages for the premium assistance.
- The federal budget will pay $13 for every one dollar the state has to contribute for the new Medicaid, and will pay 100% of the premium help for moderate-income families who buy in the new Exchange.
- The Senate bill recognizes that health reform has to address out-of-pocket costs, not just health insurance premiums, because more than half of U.S. bankruptcies are related to health care bills, and over three-quarters of those are in families with insurance!
- The Senate bill would lower out-of-pocket costs like co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles for families up to 2.5 times the poverty line ($55,125 for a family of 4) who buy insurance through the new health insurance Exchange.
- For the rest of us, new individual, group, and self-insured plans will have to cap our annual out-of-pocket expenses at $5,950 for an individual and $11,900 for a family.
- This will provide a tremendous new level of protection from medical bankruptcy for Texas families.
10. Individual Responsibility
- Some health reform opponents object to the proposed requirement that all U.S. citizens have coverage that meets minimum standards. They don’t realize that there would be common-sense exemptions for low income and financial hardship, and the penalty for those who are not exempt would be just a fraction (about one-sixth) of the costs of buying insurance.
- The new requirement will not take effect until good, affordable coverage is available for all uninsured and small business employees from a new health insurance Exchange, with sliding-scale premium help for families with modest incomes (e.g., up to $88,000 a year for a family of 4).
- The penalty is an incentive to encourage “free riders” to buy coverage, while helping support the health care safety net that will continue to provide care to the uninsured when they are ill or injured.
- Affordable coverage depends on spreading risk across the largest number of people possible to keep the price down for everyone.
11. Employer Responsibility
- The Senate’s health reform bill does not require any business with 50 or fewer employees to provide health benefits, period.
- For employers with over 50 workers, there is a penalty for not offering insurance that only kicks in if an employee gets help with their premiums from the new health insurance Exchange—an uninsured family of 4 with income up to about $88,000 would qualify for help.
- This employer would pay a yearly fee of $750 per full-time worker ($63 a month), which is less than one-sixth of the average $4,600 annual health insurance cost paid by Texas employers who provide health benefits today.
- Collecting this penalty from larger “free rider” employers who don’t provide benefits makes sure that they help offset the public’s costs from their uninsured workers who get sliding-scale premium help, and creates an incentive for them to offer health benefits. At the same time, it keeps the penalty low enough that larger employers can still make the choice not to offer health benefits.