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UPDATED: Murphy votes for historic health insurance reform

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WASHINGTON, DC–Congressman Scott Murphy (D-20th) voted Sunday evening for final passage of The Affordable Health Care for America Act, the health insurance reform bill adopted by the House of Representatives in two votes after a final, prolonged debate on the House floor.

The first vote approved the Senate bill, and President Obama signed that bill into law Tuesday at the White House. The second measure adopted by the House Sunday night contains revisions to the Senate bill that will remove some of the provisions the public and members of Congress in both major parties found most objectionable, including special deals for a handful of states with lawmakers whose votes were needed to pass the legislation.

The Senate must still vote on the second bill, but Senate Democrats need only a simple majority to adopt that part of the overall reform package. Debate on the bill began in the Senate this week.

In the 20th District, which includes all of Columbia County and all or parts of nine other counties from Dutchess County in the south to the Adirondacks in the north, Mr. Murphy predicted the new law would have the following effects:

*Improve coverage for 459,000 residents with health insurance

*Give tax credits and other assistance to up to 151,000 families and 15,500 small businesses to help them afford coverage

*Improve Medicare for 117,000 beneficiaries, including closing the Medicare Part D doughnut hole

*Extend coverage to over 20,000 uninsured residents

*Guarantee that 8,600 residents with pre-existing conditions can obtain coverage

*Protect 1,200 families from bankruptcy due to the growth of out of control health care costs

*Allow 51,000 young adults to obtain coverage through their parents’ insurance plans

*Provide millions of dollars in new funding for 25 community health centers

*And, reduce the cost of uncompensated care for hospitals and other health care providers by $26 million annually.

A press release from his office attributed these estimates to data from several government agencies, including the Census Bureau, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Congressional Budget Office.

Overall, the bill will expand coverage to over 31 million Americans, cut insurance company abuses and is expected to reduce the deficit and debt over time. Mr. Murphy said it would also slow the growth of healthcare costs and help small businesses afford insurance for employees.

Mr. Murphy voted against the first health reform bill adopted by the House last year, and his vote for the new measure, part of which is now law, drew criticism from one of the candidates hoping to run against him this fall. Kinderhook Republican Chris Gibson, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the seat in the 20th District, issued a statement after the vote calling passage of the reform bill “a hurtful measure that passed with the support of our local congressman.”

Looking ahead to the fall campaign, Mr. Gibson said in the statement, “voters will hold Mr. Murphy accountable for this inexplicable reversal in positions. Real change is coming in November.”

This type of traditional political sparring among candidates was eclipsed this week by the news that some members of Congress have received threats of physical violence because of their support for the bill. That prompted Mr. Murphy to issue a statement Wednesday, which decried the threats as “distressing and disgusting.  Not only are the actions of outside individuals deplorable, but the dehumanizing comments and violent imagery being promoted by some in Washington are wildly inappropriate and set an underlying tone that condones these despicable acts. They must stop now.  This is not about politics or policy; this is about common human decency. These threats and attacks must end.”

Mr. Murphy said in his initial release about the vote that the bill would change “our fundamentally flawed health care system,” adding that it “takes health care decisions out of the hands of insurance companies and places them back in the hands of doctors and patients by banning health insurance companies from dropping your coverage when you get sick and by ending lifetime caps on coverage.”

Under the new law, all businesses in the country would have the option of buying health insurance through exchanges that could negotiate price reductions with insurance companies, injecting competition into the healthcare system. He said he wished those same options had existed when he ran small businesses prior to his election last year.

Mr. Murphy, who only announced his decision to vote for the bills late Friday, called the final bill “truly fiscally conservative” and said the projected deficit reduction resulting from it would be the largest dent in the deficit for more than a decade. “With this legislation, we will reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the next ten years, and $1.2 trillion over the following ten years, making significant progress in our fight to get our fiscal house in order,” said Mr. Murphy.

Returning to his experience in business, Rep. Murphy said in the release, “The bill passed today makes significant improvements over previous proposals by eliminating the employer mandate for small businesses, providing critical tax incentives and creating health care exchanges that allow businesses to band together to negotiate better prices from insurance companies.”

He said the bill “reflects many of my recommendations to encourage individuals to make healthy choices, reward doctors based on quality outcomes, and combat Medicare fraud and abuse.” And he said those “common sense policies” would help slow the rising costs of healthcare.

Even though Democrats hold a majority in the House, Sunday’s votes were close. The vote on the Senate bill was 219 to 212, with all 178 members of the House Republican caucus voting against the measure joined by over 34 Democrats. Mr. Murphy said Friday that he had won changes in the House bill and met personally with President Obama prior to making his decision on the bills.

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