Community Leaders Call for Court to Uphold the Law, Allowing 7 Million Virginians Access to Health Care and Protection from Insurance Company Abuses
Richmond, VA – Immediately following Monday’s hearing on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the U.S. District Courthouse in Richmond, community members directly helped by the health care law voiced their opposition to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s attempt to block national health care reform.
The brief media conference, organized by statewide, grassroots organization Virginia Organizing (formerly known as Virginia Organizing Project) took place outside the courthouse directly after the hearing.
After refusing to dismiss Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s health care lawsuit in July, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson heard arguments today on the constitutionality of the law. This argument follows a Michigan federal court decision issued last week which found that the minimum coverage provision (the so-called insurance “mandate”) is constitutional.
Judge Hudson’s decision is not expected for several weeks. Whatever the outcome, the case will likely be appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and eventually, the US Supreme Court is expected to finally resolve the legal questions raised in this and numerous cases filed around the country.
Community leaders spoke out today on the need to uphold the law and implement health care reform as soon as possible.
Jill Hanken, Virginia Poverty Law Center:
The opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) are ignoring the enormous benefits of our new law. The law already protects Virginia consumers from egregious insurance company abuses, gives 2010 tax credits to small businesses in Virginia that provide insurance to their workers, helps young adults stay insured and sends checks to seniors with very high prescription costs. The people challenging the law would undo these significant benefits which are already in place. They would undo the provisions requiring insurance companies to justify increases in premiums and requiring insurers to use most of those premiums on actual health services instead of profits. And the opponents would keep millions of Virginians – including 1 million uninsured Virginians – from getting affordable health insurance in 2014.
It’s also worth mentioning that Virginia state agencies, colleges, medical centers and health clinics have already received over $50 million in federal grants from ACA to help implement the law and expand Virginia’s primary care workforce – especially in rural and underserved areas. I applaud this work and all the ongoing efforts of Governor McDonnell’s Advisory Committee and Secretary Bill Hazel’s office to efficiently and carefully implement health reform in Virginia. It would be great if all Virginia officials would work on implementing the law instead spending time and precious state dollars fighting it.
Marcus Grimes of Woodbridge was featured in an amicus brief supporting the health care law filed by Virginia Organizing. Grimes is a strong advocate for the health care law and spoke on his own experiences with the health care system. Grimes is now legally blind because his retina began detaching several years ago. Due to inadequate insurance coverage he could not afford the eye surgery necessary to save his eyesight.
Marcus Grimes, Virginia Organizing Community Leader:
My name is Marcus Grimes. I am 39 years old and I live in Woodbridge with my wife and two step-daughters. I am here today because I strongly support the health care law and understand how desperately it is needed. My personal experience demonstrates how necessary health care reform is. Had the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act been the law 20 years ago when my health care problems began, my life would have been dramatically different.
My health problems began in 1989 when I was a freshman in college and was diagnosed with diabetes with blood sugar more than ten times over the normal level. I took this diagnosis very seriously and moved home to my parents’ house in Washington, D.C. to address my diabetes through a commitment to medical care and weight loss. Eventually my health improved to the extent that I did not even need insulin.
Eventually I graduated college and got a job teaching high school English at a D.C. charter school. The school did not offer group insurance for their employees and I was told to see an insurance broker where I could purchase an individual policy out of pocket. Because I had a pre-existing condition, even though my diabetes no longer required insulin, the premiums were more expensive than I could afford on a teacher’s salary. The cost of the premiums would have been close to $1300 per month. I reluctantly declined the health insurance and instead focused on keeping myself healthy with a sugar free diet and regular workouts. Still, I was worried about not having coverage so I signed up for DC HealthAlliance which provided very limited insurance.
As part of my fitness routine I began taking supplements and one of them eventually led to heart failure. I ended up in the hospital for two weeks and was left with a bill because my insurance would pay for next to nothing.
Upon returning home from the hospital I notice a blurry spot on my eye. I went to the doctor and he told me that my retina was detaching and than I would need a $50,000 surgical procedure to save my eyesight. The surgery would cost more than I could pay and my insurance would not cover any vision problems. The doctor told me I would need $3,000 up front to schedule the surgery and that was more than I could afford. Despite the efforts of my parents to write letters to our elected officials asking for help, I was unable to find the money or get the insurance company to pay for the surgery. I had made all of the ‘right’ decisions with my life and now I was losing my vision because I had taken a job teaching at a charter school without good health insurance.
Gradually from 2002-2003, I progressively lost my eyesight in my left eye, then in my right eye. By 2004, I was legally blind. I was too depressed to ask for help. I gave up and felt like there was no hope.
Janie Williams, 22 year old UVA graduate who will benefit from the law.
Janie Williams graduated from the University of Virginia in May and found herself kicked off of her parents’ health insurance plan. Unable to find work in her field, she has been waiting tables at a job without affordable insurance. “I watched the health care debate particularly because I knew that I would be affected by the provision about young people staying on their parents’ insurance. I am thankful that the bill passed and that I am now back on my parents’ plan,” said Williams.Thanks to the health care law, young adults can stay on a parent's plan until they turn 26 as of September 23, 2010. If someone wants to put an adult child on their plan, they'll be given an opportunity to do so during a special enrollment period
Rabbi Ben Romer, Congregation Or Ami:
Like 61 percent of the Commonwealth, I am an Anthem customer. And like most Anthem customers I have experienced rate increases and coverage denials for no reason. I am speaking out today because I am distressed that Attorney General Cuccinelli would consider blocking a health care law that will improve health care for millions of Virginians and will finally hold insurance companies like Anthem accountable.
My story began last year when our rates went up 17.5% simply because I got a year older. I sought to find a different plan so that I could lower my coverage and afford my premiums. According to my insurance carrier Anthem, this meant I had to start over and go through the underwriting process. The underwriting process is simply code for ‘we are going to find some way to raise your rates.’ And sure enough, they found something. Anthem pointed to a recent diagnosis my wife had from her doctor, which according to Anthem would mean she needed surgery ‘at some point in the future.’ Despite the fact that her doctor called and wrote Anthem repeatedly to let them know that my wife did not need surgery and was healthy, they proceeded to raise our rates, decreased our coverage and designated that my wife now had a ‘pre-existing condition.’
Now we are limited in our choices of our insurance coverage and stuck with high premiums. Our situation is not unique however and millions of Americans go through the same thing every year. That is exactly why we need this health care law. It cannot be implemented quickly enough and I am thankful that insurance companies are already barred from denying children due to pre-existing conditions and this practice will be completely phased out by January 1, 2014 when the health care law is fully implemented.
Without the health care law to reign in these insurance companies and hold them accountable, we essentially have a private government, not accountable to consumers like you and I. The insurance companies are only accountable to their profits. Without a strong health care law to hold them accountable, the insurance company’s practices amount to little more than a private insurance tax increase that we are all forced to pay. But it is taxation without representation, unless we have some consumer protection. Without some regulation, these are private corporations deciding how to tax us. This is simply Un-American.
After decades of these insurance companies getting away with their bad practices we finally have sensible legislation that fixes this. Now Attorney General Cuccinelli wants to block the health care law? The Attorney General, whose main job is to fight for Virginia’s consumers should not stand in the way of insurance companies finally being held accountable. This makes no sense at all and is a waste of time and taxpayers' money. The Attorney General should be working hard to reign in the insurance companies for Virginia’s consumers. Instead he is appearing on every national news program that will have him, putting politics ahead of the health of Virginia’s families.
Since passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Virginia Organizing has been educating the public on what the national health care law will mean for Virginians. Virginia Organizing is one of many groups to file an amicus brief with the U.S. District Court supporting the federal health care law and opposing Attorney General Cuccinelli’s attempts to block reform.
Despite the ongoing court battle, Governor Bob McDonnell has been working on implementing the new law in Virginia and many groups and individuals are participating in the process.
Jim Lindsay of the Virginia Organizing Health Care Committee spoke at the media conference after the hearing and will also join other health reform advocates at the Governor’s Health Reform Advisory Committee working group meetings in Richmond next week to weigh in on the implementation of the new law.
Jim Lindsay, Virginia Organizing Health Care Committee:
My name is Jim Lindsay and since 2008, I have been fighting for health care reform with the Virginia Organizing Health Care Reform Committee. It has not been an easy fight but we now have a comprehensive law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that when fully implemented will provide affordable, accessible health care for all Virginians and all Americans.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a lifeline for Virginians, starting with the million uninsured, many of whom are just one serious illness away from choosing between treatment and bankruptcy, and the many who would suffer and die needlessly for lack of coverage.
The law provides long overdue basic consumer protections for all Virginians against denial and cancellation of coverage when we need it most. As of September 23rd six major provisions of the Affordable Care Act have already kicked in, including consumer protections that end the worst of insurance company abuses.
The new law puts an end to odious practices like dropping people because they got sick, putting annual and lifetime limits on how much coverage you can get from the insurance policy you rightly thought covered everything, and denying children coverage because they're sick. Because of the health care law, 25,000 young Virginians will now be able to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26 years old. The law ensures that preventative coverage like mammograms and colonoscopies are covered by insurance. Thousands of Virginia small businesses have already received tax credits to offer coverage to their employees and almost 110,000 are eligible.
Once the law is fully implemented, insurance companies will not be able to deny any of us coverage because we have an illness, or drop us when we do.
It is a shame that we are standing here today wasting time addressing the Attorney General’s attempts to block health care reform. At a time when Virginia is facing tough choices about budget cuts, Attorney General Cuccinelli and the McDonnell administration are wasting taxpayer dollars on a frivolous lawsuit that is bound to fail. The Coverage Provision is absolutely constitutional and there is more than two hundred years of well-established legal precedent to demonstrate thus. Last week a Michigan Federal Court judge rejected a challenge to the coverage requirement, ruling that the law was within Congress' constitutional right to regulate interstate commerce.
We would like to see Attorney General Cuccinelli use his office to prosecute the abuses of the insurance industry and cases of clear fraud so that more of our health care dollars go towards patient care.
Despite the ongoing court battle, Governor Bob McDonnell has been working on implementation of the new law in Virginia and many groups like Virginia Organizing and individuals are participating in the process.
Governor McDonnell clearly understands that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is now the law of the land. Two weeks ago the Governor was celebrating the 2 million dollars in increased health care funding for older adults and those with disabilities due entirely to the new health care law. Yet he and the attorney general continue to pursue a lawsuit that could repeal reform and return us to a status quo where insurers deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and cancel coverage when you become ill.
Without the health care law a million Virginians will be left out in the cold, without insurance, playing the odds with medical and financial catastrophe and in the end the insured foot the bill. Right now, the average American family with insurance pays over $1,000 a year in higher premiums to cover the cost of care for the uninsured.
Lets stop using scarce public resources to pursue a lawsuit that is contrary to the best interests of Virginia taxpayers and consumers and focus instead on making sure all Virginians have the protection of affordable health insurance.