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NEA Supports the Kennedy-Dodd Health Care Reform Bill

But still more work to do in guaranteeing affordable, quality care for all

by Tim Walker

The debate over health reform is heating up in Washington this week, with lawmakers in Congress, lobbyists, and President Obama all weighing in on how to curb skyrocketing costs and provide affordable, quality care to every American. Although the effort is only now only taking center stage, the National Education Association has been working behind the scenes for more than a year to gear up for this campaign, believing that the stars are in alignment to finally overhaul the broken health care system. NEA agrees with President Obama, who recently told a town-hall gathering, “If we don’t get it done in this year, we’re not going to get it done.”

On Friday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unveiled a long-awaited proposal authored by Senators Edward Kennedy and Chris Dodd – one that could become the benchmark for Congressional legislative action on heath care. NEA quickly announced its support for the proposal. The bill, said NEA president Dennis Van Roekel, “will provide a health safety net for 9 million uninsured children and their families regardless of employment status and current health condition.”

But NEA believes any health care legislation must include a public plan - a government-sponsored insurance alternative. The public option is the most contentious issue in the health care debate. Without a public option in the final bill, most experts agree, Congress should easily be able to pass bipartisan health care reform. But supporters, including the NEA, believe a public option is necessary if reform is to be truly effective.

“Americans deserve quality, affordable health care coverage either through their employer or via a public option,” said Van Roekel. “We must do this to improve our collective health and control spiraling health care costs.” (More on why the public plan is essential here and here.)

NEA’s 3.2 million members have a tremendous stake in the health care battle. Not only is it a vital” pocketbook” issue for so many working families, who have been hurt by skyrocketing costs and inadequate choice of health care plans, reform is critical for the nation’s public schools.

“NEA members know firsthand,” explains Van Roekel, “that the lack of necessary medical and dental services for children and students of all ages creates a serious impediment to the learning process.” Strong health care benefits play an important role in creating better public schools by attracting and retaining top-quality educators. In addition, families with access to a regular source of medical care are more likely to keep the entire family healthy and create a better learning environment within the home.

To that end, NEA in 2008 released its six principles for health car reform: guaranteed coverage for the uninsured, cost control, provisions and standards for medical safety and quality, comprehensive coverage, the inclusion of preventive, wellness and rehabilitative programs, and a greater use of health information technology to reduce medical errors and administrative cost. In addition to supporting a robust public option, NEA also believes the employer-based system must be kept intact and strongly opposes the taxation of employer-based benefits.

To help accomplish these goals, NEA has been an active member of Health Care for America Now, a national grassroots campaign of more than 1,000 organizations, since July 2008 and the National Coalition on Health Care.

In May, NEA joined forces with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the United Food and Commercial Workers to persuade key lawmakers to oppose the taxation of heath care benefits. This proposal is one of many formulas being considered to help finance reform, which by some estimates could cost more than $1.6 trillion over the next decade. As far as financing reform, all options are “on the table,” according to the Obama administration.

Despite potential differences over some issues, NEA strongly supports the president's ultimate goal: bringing quality, affordable heath coverage to every American. 

"NEA stands firmly behind President Obama and Congress on getting this done,” said Van Roekel. “And we will continue to work with them to make sure our members' voices are heard."

For more information on NEA's positions and actions on health care, visit

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