valerie-jarrett_web.jpgThe public debate on health care has been aired in hearings in Congress, the media and in communities throughout the nation.

Both houses of Congress have passed health insurance reform bills for the first time in 70 years.  We have made tremendous progress, and now President Obama is asking for an up-or-down vote in Washington to give people the access to health care and the relief from rising costs that they desperately need.

Meanwhile, as the fight for reform is taking place here in Washington, across the country insurance companies continue to blindly raise insurance premiums on families. That’s what happened to Leslie Banks.  Leslie wrote a letter to President Obama describing her situation. 

Leslie is an African-American woman, a single mom, and a self-employed business owner living in Philadelphia. In January, Leslie received a notice from her health insurance provider that her plan was being dropped. To keep the same benefits, the premiums for her and her daughter would more than double. Leslie was told by the insurance company that it intended to impose an across-the-board premium hike. If she chose to pay the same monthly premium amount as before, the deductible would increase from $500 to $5,000, and they would no longer have preventive care or prescription drug coverage. For Leslie, this choice was really not a choice at all. She dropped her coverage.

Leslie’s story is why the president is so determined to see that we get health reform done, and unfortunately, stories like Leslie’s are unfolding in states all across the country right now. In California, we see an insurance company increasing its rates by 39 percent. In fact, premiums for both single and family policies could more than double by 2020. While families are struggling to absorb these outrageous costs, the insurance companies are meeting at fancy hotels in Washington, D.C., to discuss spending $1 million on ads to convince Congress to once again turn away from enacting the reform we need now.

Well, enough is enough.  It is time to finally get health insurance reform done.

Getting this done is, of course, important for the entire country, but it is especially critical to the well-being of African Americans who, like Leslie Banks, are spending more of their hard-earned money on health care, but getting less in return.

African Americans are facing these health care challenges while recent reports show that, as a group, they are in poorer health than other Americans. They are at a higher risk of suffering from a chronic disease—such as heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure—than any other group in the country.  Seventy percent of African Americans are overweight or obese, a gateway to many chronic illnesses. While they are more prone to suffer these illnesses, African Americans suffer from lack of access to quality care, and are twice as likely to use the emergency room as whites.

With these challenges in mind, the president has continued to push for health insurance reform.  He has offered a plan that will give families and small businesses control over their own health care decisions, and shift power away from the insurance companies. He believes that the citizens who pay the salaries of those in Congress deserve no less than the same health insurance choices, and the same consumer protections as the members of Congress. But if you have insurance, and you like it, you can keep it.

The plan also ends the worst insurance company abuses such as discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.
It embraces ways to weed out waste, fraud and abuse. It will reduce the federal deficit over the long term, and it will extend coverage to more than 31 million Americans.

The case for health insurance reform has been made, and starting over, which is code for doing nothing, is not an option.
After a year of debate, we are closer than we have ever been to enacting real health insurance reform for the American people.

This is not the time to turn back or give in.  This is the time to act.  This is what Leslie Banks – and all Americans – deserve.

Valerie Jarrett is the senior advisor to President Barack Obama for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement.