Nation’s Largest RN Organization Blasts Bid to Tax Benefits, Urges Other Reforms to Protect Patients, Families In Final Talks on Healthcare Reform Legislation

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Charles Idelson, 510-273-2246

Nation’s Largest RN Organization Blasts Bid to Tax Benefits, Urges Other Reforms to Protect Patients, Families In Final Talks on Healthcare Reform Legislation

WASHINGTON - The nation’s largest union and professional organization of
registered nurses today called on House members to hold the line in
opposing a tax on workers’ healthcare benefits, and called for other
changes in the final healthcare legislation to expand affordability and
crack down on insurance industry abuses.

“It is unconscionable that workers and families with
employer-sponsored health plans, who receive virtually no benefits from
the proposed legislation, would have their health coverage taxed and
seriously eroded,” said Deborah Burger, RN, co-president of the 150,000
member National Nurses United, formed last month through a unification
of the California Nurses Association/NNOC, United American Nurses, and
the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

“Enactment of this tax would be a disgraceful betrayal of working families and their yearning for genuine reform,” Burger said.

The excise tax on workers’ benefits is a central plank of the Senate
version of the bill, and is supported by the White House, in contrast
to the House bill which instead sets new taxes on the highest-income
earners. Congressional Budget estimates say the tax would affect 19
percent of employer-paid plans, or 30 million Americans by 2016, a
number that Citizens for Tax Justice says will soar to 58 million
people by 2019.

 “Advocates of the tax have made clear their intent: to force
working people into cheaper, high deductible plans that provide less
coverage and shift more costs to employees. The inevitable effect will
be more people skipping needed medical care, enduring much higher
out-of-pocket costs and risking financial ruin due to medical bills,”
said NNU Co-president Karen Higgins, RN.

A Towers-Perrin employer survey last September found 86 percent of
employers would pass along their higher costs to employees, “an
especially bitter pill for those working families who were assured that
health reform would not undermine their present coverage,” said NNU
Co-president Jean Ross, RN. “They will be saddled with higher costs and
less coverage, while insurance companies will still have free rein to
raise premiums, co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance and other fees, and
continue to routinely deny needed medical care.”

“Enactment of the tax, whose central premise is to control
healthcare costs by reducing utilization of needed medical care while
failing to control the pricing practices of the healthcare industry,
would symbolize a central failing of the proposed legislation, ceding
far too much to the insurers and the rest of the healthcare industry,”
Burger added.

In addition to calling on Congressional leaders to drop the excise
tax, NNU is calling on Congress to make other changes in the final
bill, including:

1. A state waiver to ERISA, the federal employee retirement system,
to allow states to pass Medicare for all/single-payer reforms without a
court challenge from healthcare corporations.

2. Medicaid expansion to 150 percent of the poverty level (the House
version) rather than the more limited Senate Medicaid expansion. Half
of the increased coverage under the bill comes through Medicaid
expansion; with the failure of Congress to stop the price gouging of
the insurers and drug companies, the broadest possible increase in
Medicaid eligibility is essential for American families.

3. Closure of the loopholes on the insurance regulations in the
bills that ostensibly ban rescissions (insurers dropping people when
they get sick) and refusal to sell policies to people with pre-existing
conditions.

Among the ways to close those loopholes are:

A. Eliminate the state-based exchanges in favor of a strongly
regulated federal exchange, to prohibit insurers from avoiding strong
consumer-won protections in some states by issuing the policies in
unregulated states.

B. Prohibit rescissions under any circumstances. The current bill
allows patients to be dropped for “fraud or intentional
misrepresentation,” the same pretext insurers commonly use now.

C. Prevent insurers from being able to charge up to four times more
based on age, or more for certain conditions. No age-based premiums
should be allowed, and the bill should include a direct prohibition on
marketing gimmicks that enable insurers to avoid sicker enrollees.

D. Bar the higher charges allowed for employees who fail “wellness”
programs because they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high
cholesterol readings or other chronic conditions.

“The repeated concessions Congress and the White House have made to
opponents and obstructionists have gravely weakened the promise of
reform,” said Higgins. “Nurses will continue to campaign for more cost
effective, comprehensive reform by expanding Medicare to cover
everyone, and passing single payer bills in individual states.”

“In the meantime, Congress has one final opportunity to fix some of
the worst problems in this legislation. We will be closely monitoring
the votes of our legislators on the final bill,” Ross said. “We ask and
expect members of the House of Representatives to vote no on any bill
providing for an excise tax on health care benefits.”

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National Nurses United, with close to 185,000 members in every state, is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in US history.

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