Protecting Patients’ Rights, Preserving Health Care Freedoms

By Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) / 2.10.11

Congress is back in session and Republican’s first order of business was to repeal health care rights that Americans now enjoy.

We have a jobs crisis in this nation, most acutely in our very own community.  During this period of economic uncertainty, living through a foreclosure epidemic and skyrocketing unemployment, Democrats ensured that a bright light would shine through the bleak landscape.

Democrats passed healthcare reform, despite the clamor and uprising from insurance companies who knew that business as usual would be a practice of the past.

No longer could having a pre-existing condition be grounds to deny Americans health care coverage, and young people under the age of 26 could stay on their parents’ plans.  A breast cancer survivor would no longer be thrown off insurance rolls or be denied coverage because of her gender.

The Republican leadership instead wants to repeal rights and deny insurance coverage to people in need.

I have seen the healthcare crisis in the most personal and up front ways.

Working as a Physician Assistant in Los Angeles County General Hospital, I worked with the uninsured every day. Their faces and their pleas are on the forefront of my mind as I continue our fight to preserve our rights we deserve through health care reform.

To my Republican colleagues who want to ignore the problem, I invite them to County Hospital and I know that the problems plaguing our community are not unique to our region or state.

As a mother, imagine the feeling and concern when a letter arrives from your insurance company telling you that your 22 year-old-daughter would be dropped from her insurance plan on her 23rd birthday. That was my experience and that was a letter I received in my mailbox.

For many of you, this does not require any imagination because you’ve experienced this feeling already.  Thanks to health care reform, children are covered under their parents’ health insurance until the age of 26.

As a step-mother, I experienced the unthinkable when my now 19-year-old step-daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia as a six-year-old. After undergoing painful chemotherapy for over 2 years, she has fought her way to being cancer free for the last 11 years. And then, after beating back this disease, she lost her insurance just last year. Our family was put in a perilous situation, one that many of us know too well. But thankfully, when my health insurance starts on February 1 as I start a new health care plan, I will now be able to cover my step-daughter on my plan.

It shouldn’t require situations this extreme to cover a family member in need.

Within the African American community, we confront the reality of health disparities in an acute way.  Our infant mortality rate is like that of a third world country and in fact, black babies die three times as often as white babies. Health care reform promises free preventive services, including prenatal care, which can help in reducing the infant mortality rate as well as reduce the rates of prostate and breast cancers among African Americans. These are rights we cannot allow to be taken away.

When asked to speak to young people about future careers, I always encourage them to consider a career in health care. The U.S. currently has a severe shortage of nurses, Physician Assistants, radiology technicians, and hundreds of other technical jobs. Health care reform will expand coverage to 31 million people, resulting in the need for tens of thousands of new health care workers. These are good paying jobs that cannot be outsourced or replaced by technology, and they present an opportunity to help curb the massive levels of unemployment in our community.

With so much at stake, let’s work together to maintain health care reform so that we can keep America, and our community, on the road to recovery.

We owe it to our children and ourselves.

Karen Bass represents the 33rd congressional district, which includes Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Culver City and was the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly.

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