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In 1917, progressives in America began a quest to create a system to provide health insurance to all Americans.  Today, almost a century later, we are poised to take a giant step toward realizing that goal.  Viewed through the lens of history, this is truly an amazing accomplishment.

To earn my vote, health insurance reform must improve access to affordable health care for Minnesota families – and this bill clears that bar with room to spare.  This bill does not fix all the problems with our health care system, and I will not stop working to improve the quality and lower the costs of health care for all Americans.  But progressives can be proud of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and take a large measure of credit for important provisions it will codify as the law of the land.

Requiring insurance companies to spend 85% of premiums on actual health services -- not administrative costs, TV ads, or gargantuan CEO bonuses -- is a big victory.  Senator Rockefeller and I worked hard to get that provision included because it holds insurance companies accountable and will put an end to exploding premiums and obscene profits – a huge win for progressives.

Like many of you, I supported a public insurance option to increase competition.  I’m disappointed that provision isn’t in this bill.  But what is in this bill is a significant step toward our goal of universal coverage.

This bill will end annual and lifetime limits on the dollar value of your benefits.  Eliminating preexisting condition exclusions for all new medical plans and funding high-risk pools to insure those with preexisting conditions who are currently without insurance means Minnesotans won’t be locked in their jobs or afraid to start their own businesses for fear of losing coverage.  Requiring that 85 cents of every premium dollar go toward coverage will limit insurers’ profits and skyrocketing insurance premiums.

These are all real, strong reforms that this bill enacts with the urgency this crisis demands.  Small businesses will immediately receive tax credits to make covering employees more affordable, and insurers will have to cover recommended preventive services at no cost to the patient.  Again, these changes take effect immediately.

In coming years, health insurance exchanges will be created to give more Americans access to affordable coverage.  For those who already have coverage, but live in fear that they're just an illness or pink slip away from losing their health insurance, this bill provides the peace of mind that comes with access to secure, stable, affordable coverage.

These reforms are fiscally responsible and crucial to our long-term economic health.  By bringing down costs and focusing on prevention and high-value health care, more Americans will get screenings to prevent diseases before they become costly and disabling.  We’ll also make providers accountable for making people healthier, rewarding them for efficient care.  In the end, this bill will save money and keep our country healthier while cutting the deficit by $132 billion in the first ten years and $650 billion in the second ten.

The plain simple truth is, because of this legislation crafted by Leader Reid and others in the Senate, 31 million more Americans will have affordable health insurance and the growth in health care costs for families will be dramatically diminished.  For those reasons and the many I outlined here, today I am proud to announce my strong support for this historic step toward universal health care in America.

Originally posted to Al Franken on Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 09:24 AM PST.

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