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Reporting from the Families USA Health Action Conference

By Josh Spaulding

Today, Families USA, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization, began their annual Health Action Conference with an opening plenary of inspiring leaders in the health reform fight.  Despite the icy, bad weather in DC, close to 1,000 health reform advocates have gathered to learn how to educate the public on the new benefits of the law and the next steps for implementation.

First up was Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who is the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, a critical committee on health care issues and implementation of the new law.  He thanked advocates for all their hard work they put into making health care a reality for Americans.  He told the audience that opponents of health care reform want us to “pray you don’t get sick.”  Senator Harkin went on to say that we need to go on the offensive and make opponents of health reform defend why they want to take health coverage away from Americans. Finally, he reminded us that the ACA is just the foundation and not the final act.  As we move forward, we must work together to fill in the gaps and make the law stronger.

Next, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, talked about the long hard road that health advocates took to get where we are today. He reminded us of the hard work we put in last year to get health reform passed.  Senator Baucus mentioned that when the health care reform debate began there were two things to keep in mind: 1) We’re all in this together because health care touches everyone, and 2) no idea is off the table.  Senator Baucus told the crowd that passing the health care reform law was the right thing for America. The law puts health decisions back in the hands of patients and doctors, and not insurance companies.  This was a reoccurring theme from all the speakers. 

The biggest moment of the opening morning was the introduction of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.  She thanked advocates for “strengthening our country by strengthening our families”.  She reminded us that health will create four million jobs, reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion and it protects 165 million people with pre-existing conditions.

The morning was rounded out health economist Jonathan Gruber, an expert who helped lead the implementation of the Massachusetts health plan. He talked about the similarities between the Massachusetts plan and the ACA and why the future looks bright for the latter.  Under the Massachusetts plan, there is near universal coverage in the state.  Moreover, the costs in the non-group market were reduced by 50%, lowering the costs for those that do not get employer-based health coverage.  The myth that employers will drop coverage proves false in Massachusetts.  Since 2005, Massachusetts has seen an increase in the number of people covered by employer plans.  Lastly, 75% of the people in Massachusetts support the reforms. Once Americans learn about the ACA, they will support reform.

The Health Action Conference’s opening day has been a reminder of how far we have come with health care in America.  Health reform is literally saving people’s lives.  I’m excited to hear from all the great leaders attending the conference.  I will be posting the latest developments from the conference on twitter. This afternoon we will be hearing from Dr. Don Berwick, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Stay tuned!


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