With the U.S. House vote Nov. 7 approving historic health care reform, America's working families are another step closer to winning quality, affordable health care for all.

The citizens of Indiana owe thanks to U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ninth, who voted for the bill. Rep. Hill and other representatives who supported the bill faced down a daylong barrage of blatant falsehoods from opponents. Let's get the facts straight.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act, which now must be merged with a bill the Senate is expected to pass in coming weeks, covers 96 percent of Americans, is fully paid for and reduces the federal deficit, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The White House Council of Economic Advisers confirms it will aid job creation in both the short term and the long term.

"The House bill gives us the tools to finally address the stranglehold private insurance companies have over our health care."

Under the House bill:

  • Millions of people who have no health coverage today will get it.
  • No one can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
  • One major illness will not wipe out your family's savings.
  • Cost won't stand in the way of preventive care.
  • Employers and union funds that have been doing right by covering early retirees will get assistance for expensive care through a "reinsurance fund."
  • Medicare recipients will see the end of the infamous "donut hole" and lower drug prices overall.
  • The House bill gives us the tools to finally address the stranglehold private insurance companies have over our health care and to slow the skyward thrust of health care costs that threatens not only our families but also our entire economy.

    Unlike the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee, the House bill is financed fairly -- not by taxing middle-class health care benefits.

    The House bill increases choice by adding a strong public health insurance plan option that will drive down health care costs by forcing private insurers to compete. The public plan is an option -- one of a range of insurance plans we all can choose from. If you like your current insurance, keep it. If not, the insurance market, including the public plan and private plans, is open to your choice. And if you can't afford insurance, this bill will get you help.

    At the core of the House health care bill is shared responsibility -- individuals, companies and government all play a role. Companies are required to cover employees or pay into a common fund, so the rest of us don't have to pick up the health care tab for the workers of highly profitable companies. Small businesses are exempt, and tax credits will help small, responsible employers take part. Individuals must have health insurance -- just like we're required to have car insurance -- but low-income people will get help paying for health insurance.

    "At the core of the House health care bill is shared responsibility -- individuals, companies and government all play a role."

    Every year, about $1,000 of our health insurance costs go to cover the uninsured. Bringing previously uninsured people into the insurance risk pool is key to driving down health care costs for all of us.

    The House bill helps America's elders by strengthening and improving Medicare benefits and attacking waste, fraud and inefficiency -- including gross overpayments to insurance companies that provide Medicare Advantage plans. These overpayments do nothing to improve care for elders -- they just raise costs and weaken Medicare. The Alliance for Retired Americans and the AARP support the House bill as the right choice for older Americans.

    Under the House bill, veterans and their families will continue receiving care as they do now through the VA and TRICARE -- but they gain the opportunity to get additional coverage, if they choose, by enrolling in an insurance plan through the bill's Health Insurance Exchange.

    There are right ways and wrong ways to reform America's broken health care system. Allowing big private insurers to continue to call the shots that mean life and death to us is wrong. Allowing wealthy companies to shirk their responsibilities and shift the burden of health care for their employees to taxpayer-funded programs is wrong. Financing reform on the backs of middle-class families by taxing health care benefits is wrong.

    The House got it right.

    Ken Zeller is president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO. He can be reached at kzeller@inaflcio.org.