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Brooklyn Congressmembers weigh in on health care bill

Four of the five Brooklyn congress members voted for and hailed the recent passage of the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

Under the House bill, about 96 percent of the estimated 40 million U.S. citizens and legal residents younger than 65 would be covered at a cost of $894 billion to $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

The package would be paid for with higher income taxes on couples earning more than $1 million a year and singles making more than $500,000, along with cuts and savings to Medicare and Medicaid.

Couples earning above $18,700 and single people above $9,350 must have insurance or pay a 2.5 percent penalty on income.

The bill offers a public option to private insurance coverage companies. Beginning in 2013, a new government-run plan would be set up and run by the Health and Human Services secretary, offering levels of benefits covering 70% to 95% of health care expenses.

The bill requires all people to have health insurance or face fines and also includes an amendment banning insurance coverage for abortions.

On Saturday, Congress passed the bill by a narrow 220-215 vote.

“Right now, too many Americans worry about how they will find health care coverage if they lose their job,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who voted for the legislation. “On this day alone, 14,000 Americans will lose their coverage.And millions of our citizens, including one in three Hispanics, lack health insurance coverage.

Velázquez said locally the bill will make insurance more affordable with credits that help low-income residents pay for coverage and by improving Medicare for our seniors.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a leading proponent of the public option, said serious illness was the reason for 55 percent of all bankruptcies filed last year.

“I would have preferred a single payer system, the most effective and least costly way to implement a health delivery system.But I, like so many of my colleagues, have come to see a competitive public option as the best available way to refocus our misguided health care approach,” Nadler said.

Rep. Anthony Weiner said he voted for the bill because “Americans deserve quality, affordable health care” and the vote brings that one step closer to it.

Rep. Yvette Clarke said the bill’s passage will improve employer-based coverage for 367,000 residents in her district as there will be no co-pays or deductibles for preventive care; no more rate increases or coverage denials forpre-existing conditions, gender, or occupation; and guaranteed oral, vision, and hearing benefits for children.

Second, it will provide credits to help pay for coverage for up to 160,000 households, if they need to purchase their own coverage, said Clarke, and third, under the bill’s insurance reforms, 11,900 individuals in the district who have pre-existing medical conditions will now be able to purchase affordable coverage.

Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns called the bill’s passage “monumental legislation” that takes“a meaningful step forward towards delivering on America’s promise as a just nation that upholds our peoples’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But Rep. Michael McMahon, who like his Brooklyn colleagues is a Democrat, voted against the measure because it will hurt his constituents in Bay Ridge and Staten Island.

“The cuts to Medicare will affect seniors in my district, the cuts to the Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) will make it harder for hospitals to service Staten Island and Brooklyn and the cost containment doesn’t go far enough.There is no guarantee that this bill will reduce the cost of health care premiums for Staten Island and Brooklyn families,” said McMahon.

With the House passing the bill, it now moves to the Senate, where both New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand support an affordable health care bill.

“The Senate will pass a bill much closer to what passed out of the Senate Finance Committee which focuses on cutting costs by eliminating waste, fraud and duplication in our health system,” said Schumer spokesperson Julie Halpin.

“As for when a vote will take place, we just don’t know right now. Currently, there is no set date,” she added.

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