Merkley Highlights Immediate Benefits of Health Care Reform at OHSU

Portland, OR – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley visited Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) Wednesday to celebrate the passage of the health care reform law and discuss how it will benefit Oregon families and small business owners.  Merkley was joined by several Oregonians who shared stories about how the new health care law will affect them.

“The new health care reform law is a huge victory for families and businesses that have seen health care costs rise year after year after year,” Merkley said.  “The Oregonians here with me today represent the millions of people who will benefit from an improved health care system with critically needed insurance reforms and support for families and small businesses.  These improvements will create a healthier America.”

Although some pieces of the health care reform law don’t go into effect for several years, Oregonians will see numerous benefits right away.

The near-term improvements to the health care system include several elements:

  • Small businesses will receive tax credits to help pay for health insurance for their employees;
  • Insurance companies can no longer place lifetime limits on health insurance benefits;
  • Starting in mid-2010, young people can remain on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26;
  • Insurance companies are required to cover preventive services and immunizations;
  • Insurance companies cannot drop Oregonians if they get sick; and
  • Starting in mid-2010, insurance companies cannot deny children coverage because they have a pre-existing condition.

The health care reform law also closes the Medicare “donut hole” that forces seniors to pay full price for their prescription drugs in the gap between the initial coverage limit and the catastrophic coverage threshold.  The bill provides a $250 rebate to seniors in the donut hole in 2010, institutes a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs in the donut hole in 2011, and then gradually closes the donut hole entirely.¬

Senator Merkley included a provision in the health care law that ensures new mothers have the time and space to breastfeed at work.  This section of the health care reform law is based on a similar law in Oregon and will go into effect as soon as the Department of Labor writes and implements the rule.

Joining Senator Merkley at OHSU were several Oregonians who shared how their small businesses and families will benefit from the new health care reform law.

Phil Thornburg is the owner of Winterbloom, a landscaping company in Tigard. Phil has seven employees and has been paying 100 percent of their health care premiums. This major expense has put Phil at a competitive disadvantage because most of his competitors do not offer this benefit to employees and thus can pay higher salaries and cut prices. The small business tax credits within the new health care law will now cover approximately a third of those costs, allowing Phil and his company to better compete while continuing to provide great health care for his employees.

Nancy Becker is a mother of two boys, a 22-year-old and a 19-year-old who will both now eligible to remain on their parents health insurance until age 26. Nancy’s children have been worrying about the difficulty of finding health care insurance after college and are looking for employment.  With the new health care reform law, they will have a few extra years before they will have to provide their own insurance.

When Bethy Annsa went back to work after her daughter was born, she was lucky enough to have the comfort of pumping breast milk in a lactation room at her work place.  Luckily, Bethy was protected by an Oregon law that requires employers to provide breaks for new mothers to express milk and assisted by an employer that values its nursing employees and the contributions they make.  However, not all new mothers have had this kind of support.  Senator Merkley’s amendment to the new health care reform law will make stories like Bethy’s the norm across the country.

Bill Taylor just entered the Medicare “donut hole” in July 2009 and he felt the effects right away.  For example, the price for Lipitor increased from $29.00 to $120.31 and the price for Advair increased from $29.00 to $199.02.  Neither of these medications has a generic version and the costs place a huge financial burden on seniors like Bill.