Menendez Touts Health Care Law At EHMC — Thursday, April 1, 2010

Northern Valley Suburbanite

Englewood — United States Sen. Robert Menendez came to Englewood Hospital and Medical Center Monday morning to discuss the immediate impact of the newly passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Jay Nadel welcomed those in attendance to the press conference, as well as Menendez, New Jersey State Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson.

Menendez, he said, has long been a champion for the state and health care, and personally campaigned for a passage in the health care bill that would bring more than $70 million in savings to the state's hospitals.

The senator then took the podium, saying he appreciated the work Nadel and the Board of Trustees did for the community. Englewood, he said, holds a special place in his heart because his two children were born in the hospital, so Menendez said he knows the high quality of health care that is practiced in the facility.

Now that the health care reform bill has passed, he said, he had come to talk about the aspects that would come into play immediately, and to clarify misconceptions about what is and isn't in the bill. "This law delivers common sense and affordability," he said, adding health insurance should be a right for all Americans and health care should be the priority over profits.

Menendez then outlined the changes that residents would see to health care in the coming months. Among them would be an improved process of appeals to insurance companies to get coverage for procedures. Also being implemented is an extension allowing children to remain on their parents' health plans until the age of 26.

Pre-existing conditions and birth defects, Menendez said, would no longer be a barrier preventing people from gaining health insurance and senior citizens would receive help from the government to be able to pay for their prescription medication. Those enrolled in Medicare will have free preventative care, he said.

Small business owners, of whom the senator said four out of 10 could not afford coverage for their employees, will be able to receive tax credits for up to 35 percent of their premiums in order to make affording coverage easier in the current economy.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," he said, adding the legislation will bring more changes once it's fully implemented. He expressed confidence that with the passage of the law, the misconceptions about what was included will be revealed to have been politically motivated, and that it will prove beneficial to the country.

Menendez then introduced Sen. Weinberg, who congratulated Menendez for helping to pass the bill after a "very long, very tough fight." With the state of the economy in New Jersey, she said, hospitals have to deal with more uninsured patients than they used to, especially with the cuts proposed by Governor Christie. The health care reform bill, she said, will provide health insurance to more people, easing the burden of the hospitals.

Having lost her husband to cancer, along with the emotional and physical issues in dealing with the disease, Weinberg said one of the most frustrating things was dealing with the insurance company, adding this was even considering she had good insurance. "It was almost more than a person could bear," she said.

Next, Menendez brought up Phillis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, who said this was a "great day" for the state, and the milestone in a long fight. She thanked Menendez for his work in having the bill passed and acknowledged Weinberg and Johnson's work on the state level.

The senator then introduced three speakers representing the demographics that would benefit from the health care reforms. First, Henry Passapera, owner of P&R Trading, spoke, saying that health care has been a "huge cost factor" in his business and rate hikes have made it more difficult to keep the benefits for his nine employees while still making a profit.

He added he still wants a public option on the bill, but said, "This is a huge step forward," and thanked Menendez for "giving small business a fighting chance."

Next up to speak was Milly Brown, a 78-year-old AARP member, who spoke about how she has difficulty affording her prescription medication at the end of every year because of her fixed income, often getting by on the generosity of her doctors, who allow her to take samples of medication.

Finally, 23-year-old Anisha Perez spoke. When she was 21, she said, she was dropped from her parents' coverage, and didn't realize it until she came down with pneumonia and found that she had to pay for all of her medical bills, including prescription medication and a $1,000 hospital bill. As a college student who struggled with day-to-day expenses, she said, those bills simply weren't in her budget. Now, though, with coverage for children extended to 26 years of age, health coverage is no longer something she has to worry about.

The floor was then opened to questions from the press and audience. When asked how the bill will affect the shortage of primary care physicians, Menendez said when it is fully implemented, the system will become based more on prevention, which will save money and lives. This and other measures will create incentives for institutions to create primary care physicians in order to administer the preventative care on an individual basis, he said.

When asked about the tax credits for small businesses, the senator said within two months, small businesses can get credits for up to 35 percent of their insurance costs, and when the bill is fully implemented, that will go up to 50 percent. When asked about information, he said the Department of Health and Human Services would be distributing information on the programs, as would his own Web site.

Finally, Menendez was asked about the opposition that has held back the bill up to now. Menendez said the country was built on the right to disagree and he respects his opponents, but added he believes when citizens know the truth of what is in the bill, both the citizens and those that opposed the health care bill will see it was a positive move for the country.

Copyright 2010 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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