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May 25th
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Town Hall with Congressman Sam Farr

SamFarrNewThis question comes from a GT reader: Could you speak about the problem of rising costs of health insurance premiums, such as Blue Shield’s upcoming 30 percent rate hike, and what, if anything, new healthcare legislation does to address it?

I want to thank the GT reader for submitting this question, and I hope it can provide valuable information to others concerned with this important issue. After the Affordable Care Act was signed by the President in March 2010, it set off a gradual implementation of the new healthcare reforms. Even though I feel the law has room for improvement, I do believe the ACA—once fully implemented—will see the cost of health care go down and access increased for people lacking quality health care.

I understand that in response to the health case reforms, some folks have unfortunately seen their health care costs and premiums increase. First, let me say that there is nothing in this law that requires an increase in premiums. Much to the contrary, Democrats worked hard to pass a bill that would constrain premium increases.

Given public sentiment against “government controlled health care,” the bill was built around having the private sector provide expanded insurance opportunities, and excluded a public option. As a result, people may see an increase to their premiums due to insurance companies’ attempts to pass along costs of an increase in services that Americans are now entitled to receive.

Without competition from a low-cost public option, health care companies feel they can increase premiums without losing customers. I share the feeling of many Americans that this is simply not fair, but there are parts of the health care reform bill that aim to limit the increase of premiums, and to bring down the cost folks pay on their health care bills.

For example, the ACA ensures your premium dollars are spent primarily on health care itself, specifically requiring that 80 percent to 85 percent of the money collected be spent on health care services and quality improvement. And if insurance companies fail to meet this goal, they are mandated to provide rebates to their customers. Simply put, this means more of your money will go toward actual health care services and the implementation of health care improvements.

Also, the Affordable Care Act provided states with $250 million in Health Insurance Premium Review Grants, of which California has already received one million dollars, aimed at holding insurance companies accountable for unjustified premium increase.

If you feel you have been overcharged, I urge you to contact the California Department of Insurance (CDI), at 800-927-4357 or visit insurance.ca.gov.

As more of the ACA continues to take effect, I hope you will find that there is much in the new law that will make health care for you and your family more accessible and affordable. Even though the health care reforms will not be the sole solution to fixing our health care system, it is a good start—and a step in the right direction.

Republican members of the house have voted to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. What is the climate surrounding this issue like in congress right now, and what do you believe the impact would be if the senate follows suit and the funding is cut?

The Republican House Leadership has decided to take a meat axe to the federal budget, and hack and hack until there is nothing left. Democrats understand that our federal government needs to control spending and address waste, fraud and abuse. But there is a right way and a wrong way of getting our fiscal house in order; eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood is definitely not the right way.

Attempts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood represent a direct attack on the health of 1.6 million people in California that rely on Planned Parenthood clinics for their primary healthcare needs. Eliminating this vital resource would result in the loss of critical health care services at seven clinics on the Central Coast, which received 75,342 patient visits, and affecting thousands of struggling families that continue to fight to stay in their homes and pay for their basic needs.

Furthermore, cuts to Planned Parenthood funding unfairly target resources aimed toward women’s health. In fact, 86 percent of patients on the Central Cost were women seeking health care services that include breast exams, cancer screening and pregnancy testing and counseling. And, contrary to Republican rhetoric used to favor service cuts, not one penny of federal funding is used for abortions.

For countless women, Planned Parenthood health centers are their only source of health care. It is unconscionable to remove resources that overwhelmingly affect the health and lives of women and children.

It is unfortunate that Republicans have decided to irresponsibly balance the budget on the backs of our country’s most vulnerable. Like I said, there is a right way and a wrong way to digging ourselves out of this budget hole. It is unfortunate for our country that the Republican Leadership has opted for the wrong way.

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