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RELEASE: Delegation representing 700 state legislators meets with White House, Congress to urge public health insurance option

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, June 17, 2009
CONTACT:
Austin Guest (PSN), aguest@progressivestates.org, 831-917-6400 (cl)

DELEGATION REPRESENTING 700 STATE LEGISLATORS MEETS WITH WHITE HOUSE, CONGRESS TO URGE PUBLIC HEALTH INSURANCE OPTION

As health care battle heats up on Hill, Main Street lends strong vote of support to expanded choice

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As battle lines are drawn on Capitol Hill in the coming battle over health care reform, state legislators are taking on a central role in the debate. Today, at a Capitol Hill press conference hosted by Sen. Tom Harkin and a White House meeting with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Director of the White House Office of Health Care Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle, a delegation of state legislators organized by the national group Progressive States Network delivered a letter urging comprehensive health care reform within the year. The letter, which was signed by 700 legislators from 47 states, called for any federal reform bill to include a public health insurance option, strong affordability protections, and shared employer responsibility for health care costs.

The letter, which was signed by over 700 legislators from 47 states, called for any federal reform bill to include a public health insurance option, strong affordability protections, and shared employer responsibility for health care costs. The letter was formally accepted by Sen. Tom Harkin on behalf of the Senate and Representatives Steve Kagen (D — WI) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D — ME) on behalf of the House.

PSN Board Member Nan Orrock, a State Senator from Georgia, embraced the active attention from both the White House and Congress. "For decades, states across the country have done the best we can to help working families cope with a broken health care system. We've learned many lessons about what works and doesn't work, and we're looking forward to sharing them with our colleagues in the White House and Congress. On behalf of the 700 legislators who signed this letter, I thank our nation's leaders for their receptiveness and I offer our active collaboration moving forward."

Iowa State Senator Jack Hatch, who was just named chairman of the White House Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform, delivered the letter on behalf of his 700 colleagues to Sen. Harkin. He said the attention from federal leaders comes at a crucial time. "In states across the country, people are struggling under the burden of soaring health care costs, and state budgets are crippled as a result," he said. "We've done what we can to muddle through, but there's only so much we can do without help from the federal government. Today, we begin a new discussion that will help our entire country move forward together on every level of government to bring quality affordable health care to all Americans."

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who accepted the letter from Sen. Hatch on behalf of the Congress, noted the importance of welcoming grassroots voices into the debate over federal reform. "It doesn’t matter if you’re shopping for a car or a washing machine or health insurance.  Your best bet for getting a good deal is if two things are present: choice and competition.  And that’s exactly why Americans need to have the option of a public plan as they shop for insurance under a reformed health system,” said Harkin. “The signatures of 700 state legislators speak loud and clear for numerous Americans who want us to act now to give them a full range of choices of the best quality, affordable care our country can offer.  And I'm very happy to say that my colleagues and I in Congress stand ready to listen and eager to act."

Connecticut State House Speaker Christopher Donovan,whose state has pioneered legislation this year to offer an “Obama Ready” public health option, said that state leaders were eager to lend their voices to the national debate. "As state legislators, we know that America wants the choice of a public plan because we've been out there in the trenches for years now coming up with models for one. We've been going door to door talking to our constituents. We've been drafting legislation that creates public insurance options and opens employee insurance pools to the private sector. We've passed these things, so we know people like them. It's just a matter of putting federal resources behind ideas that have been engineered in the states and have gathered huge support there."

Nathan Newman, who serves as director of PSN, which drafted and circulated the letter to Obama and Congress, expressed his excitement that state legislator's voices were being heard on the Hill. "State legislators are on the front line of the battle for better health care. When their constituents go bankrupt because a family member goes ill, they are the first to hear about it. When businesses in their communities lay off workers because they can't afford the rising cost of premiums, they are the first to feel the economic reverberations. The fact that 700 state leaders from 47 states have gathered together to say they want the choice of a public insurance option just goes to show how urgently Main Street wants this solution and how welcome it is that our nation's leaders are moving to bring it to them”

A full copy of the letter can be obtained at http://progressivestates.org/statefedhealth

The delegation of state leaders included lawmakers from Iowa, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Washington, and Maine, each of which have been leading innovators in the drive to improve health care. Iowa State Senator Jack Hatch has led a multi-year drive to ensure that all Iowan children have health care. Connecticut House Speaker Christopher Donovan has been instrumental in pushing a groundbreaking pair of bills called the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership, which would open the state's public employee plan to small businesses, and SustiNet, which would create the choice of a public insurance option alongside measures to improve quality and reduce costs. Washington State Senator Karen Keiser has led the drive to regulate insurance companies, expand Medicaid coverage, and trim health costs in her state. Maine State Representative Sharon Treat, who serves as Director of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Costs, is a key leader in moving policies to reduce prescription drug costs and expand access to lifesaving medications as well as other consumer protections.

Also represented at the press conference were state advocacy organizations that have been instrumental in moving health care reform models in their states, models that were highlighted during the press conference and underscore priorities for federal reform. Citizen Action of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO have helped create and build public support for the groundbreaking Healthy Wisconsin plan, which would guarantee quality affordable coverage for all residents using cost-saving mechanisms made possible through shared responsibility and a large public insurance pool.. The Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut is the author of SustiNet, which was recently passed by the Connecticut Legislatur and awaits action by Gov. Jodi Rell. Other groups instrumental in crafting and passing SustiNet and the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership, authored by Speaker Donovan, include Connecticut Citizen Action Group, Council 4 AFSCME, SEIU Connecticut State Council, and Connecticut AFL-CIO.

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Progressive States Network is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the work of progressive state legislators around the country and to the passage of state legislation that delivers on issues the issues that matter to working families: strong wage standards and workplace freedom, balancing work and family responsibilities, health care for all, smart growth and clean energy, tax and budget reform, clean and fair elections, and technology investments to bridge the digital divide.