One of the smartest and hardest working members of the General Assembly, Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, had an excellent op-ed over the weekend in the Greensboro News & Record. For those who missed it, here it is:
As we head toward September, a few Washington lawmakers are standing in the way of health care reform that America desperately needs. Industry lobbyists are using the August recess to undermine health care reform and bolster the costly status quo. Yet, as a state legislator who has worked on this problem for years, I know that fundamental reforms are needed
The need for reform is all too obvious to the American public. Here in North Carolina, we’ve suffered long enough under the burden of a broken health care system — insurers denying care, frustrating paperwork, families facing bankruptcy from medical bills, and employers struggling to cover their workers. Although Washington insiders may be able to afford to wait, we can’t.
As a North Carolina legislator, I’ve seen firsthand the costs of failing to act. From 2000 to 2007, North Carolina families saw their premiums skyrocket by 75 percent, almost five times faster than their earnings.
The economic recession has hit North Carolina families hard, and we now have a double-digit unemployment rate. That translates into lost jobs and lost health insurance. From 2007 to 2009 the number of uninsured in our state has increased by 22.5 percent. That’s the largest increase in the nation.
And North Carolinians are losing employer-sponsored insurance at double the national rate.
In the N.C. General Assembly, we’ve been doing the best we can to staunch the bleeding. We’ve passed legislation to expand coverage to more children, created programs to provide options for low-income families and small businesses, created centers for preventative treatment, and saved taxpayers money by paying for medications in bulk. But at the end of the day, there’s only so much we can do without the help of the federal government.
Legislation currently pending in Congress would give Americans the choice of a public insurance option to choose from the best care available. For people who already have insurance, a public option would give them the peace of mind of knowing they won’t lose their coverage when they change jobs.
All Americans would know that they will never again be denied care they need because they are captive to an insurance company that doesn’t have to compete on the open market. By increasing competitiveness and incentives for increased efficiency, a public option would help reduce costs for all American families and businesses.
This would bring competition to the North Carolina insurance market. In North Carolina, Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare dominate 85 percent of the overall insurance market.
BCBS owns 96.8 percent of the individual health care market in the state, which means if you lose your job, you have almost no choice in buying insurance coverage.
Reform would require everyone to pay at a price they can afford. Large employers that don’t cover their employees would pay a fee to ensure their employees can access health care elsewhere. The uninsured would pay what they can afford for their care, too.
North Carolinians who like the coverage they have would be able to keep it. Those who want to try something else would be able to, and for the first time in our country, the uninsured who can’t afford health care right now would be able to.
President Obama has told us that health care reform would not be easy, and that he could not do it alone. We hope that Sens. Hagan and Burr will listen and choose to be on the right side of health care reform history.
Pricey Harrison represents Guilford County in the legislature. E-mail: Pricey.Harrison@ncleg.net“