Senate Health Bill Won't Undo Mass. Reforms, Kerry Says

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Speaking at Children's Hospital in Boston, Sen. John Kerry discusses the health care reform bill being debated in the U.S. Senate. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)
Speaking at Children's Hospital in Boston, Sen. John Kerry discusses the health care reform bill being debated in the U.S. Senate. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)

Sen. John Kerry downplayed fears that the national health care bill advancing in the U.S. Senate could endanger recent health care gains in Massachusetts.

Health care reformers in the state have worried that a national bill could undo parts of the Massachusetts health reform law, passed nearly four years ago.

But speaking at Children's Hospital in Boston on Tuesday, Kerry offered reassurances that the state's reform law will remain intact if the Senate bill is approved.

"None of the reforms that we enacted in 2006 will be undone or damaged by the legislation that we pass," he said. "In fact, I've worked closely with [Majority Leader] Sen. [Harry] Reid to make sure that our reforms are not only protected, but we're actually going to enhance them in several areas."

Those areas include more preventative care and home care services, reduced drug prices for some senior citizens, and tax credits for small businesses.

The Senate bill, which would give insurance coverage to another 31 million Americans, also gives Massachusetts an additional $500 million in federal Medicaid funding over the next three years.

And it would increase the income cap on who's eligible for federal insurance subsidies. Massachusetts now provides subsidies to individuals and families with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level; the Senate bill would subsidize people with incomes up to 400 percent of that level.

According to Kerry, the Senate could pass the bill by this weekend. As of Tuesday morning, it was just one vote away from passage, he said.

Kerry acknowledged that the legislation will probably need additional fine-tuning even after it's passed. But he described it as a huge step toward better health care nationwide.

"Is this perfect? No. Never met a piece of legislation that is," he said. "But I am really confident that this is going to improve our system. It's going to reduce costs. It's going to end the process of a citizen being told, 'Hey, you thought you have insurance? You've been paying a policy? Sorry, we don't cover that'...Nobody should be treated that way."

The Senate bill also includes consumer protections such as preventing insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

"Does this mean your premium may not go up a little bit? No. But it ain't going to go up 25 and 30 and 40 and 50 percent," Kerry said. "And there's going to be new competition in the arena and new accountability in the arena and a new capacity for people to be able to be healthier in our country.

"Every citizen will choose whatever plan they want. Nobody's ordered into anybody. Choose your doctor. Go to whatever doctor you want. Be part of any plan. No choice is taken away from anybody in this."

This program aired on December 22, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.