Merkley Highlights Immediate Benefits of Health Care Reform in Southern Oregon

Medford, OR – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley visited Grilla Bites in Medford Friday 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 in Medford were several Oregonians who shared how their small businesses and families will benefit from the new health care reform law.

Chris Abbey and Michael Duffy have health insurance and two children under 26.  Chris is disabled with multiple sclerosis after a career as a reporter, most recently at the Medford Mail Tribune.  Michael is a postal worker.  Their daughters are Randa, age 24, and Shannon, age 21.  Before the health care reform bill passed, Chris and Michael were panicked, particularly about Shannon’s future health care.  Shannon is finishing college with an art degree but has serious pre-existing conditions. She would be uninsurable and unable to afford the high-risk pool.  Now they will be able to insure her on their plan. Their other daughter, Randa, is unemployed and currently unable to afford visits to the doctor. so she is treating herself with herbs.  Now, Chris and Michael will be able to provide Randa with coverage for almost a year.
Brigette and Daniel Cooke own Evo’s Coffee Shop in Ashland.  They have four employees but cannot provide them with insurance. The only insurance they have for themselves is catastrophic insurance that has a $10,000 deductible and co-pays up to $10,000 for which they pay $289/month.  They don’t go to the doctor.  They also have a 21-year-old daughter, Rachel, with pre-existing conditions who is no longer a student and has no insurance.  Brigette and Dan will be able to utilize the small business tax credit this year and are thrilled that the tax credits may enable them to start contributing toward health insurance for their employees. They can also now consider adding Rachel to their plan.
Harlan Ward employs 12 people at the Medford restaurant Grilla Bites.  He used to insure himself and his manager but the insurance rates of $1000 per month became unaffordable.  The tax credits provide Harlan with the possibility of insuring himself and his manager again and increase the likelihood of providing insurance to additional employees.

Judy Richards is a 66-year-old retired teacher and a leader in Oregon Education Association.  Judy has a number of medical maladies, including allergies and reflux disease.  She has reached the donut hole in each of the last two years and has now decided to skip her prescription medications for allergies and reflux because she simply can’t afford them and, unlike her other illnesses, they are not life-threatening.  Judy tries to make do with over the counter medications the best she can.  The $250 rebate provided by the new health care reform law will help this year and closing the doughnut hole will be a huge relief to Judy in the future.