by Sabrina Salas Matanane
Guam - After nearly a century of talk and frustration, Congress approved historic legislation aimed at providing universal health care and cracking down on insurance company abuse. The Senate-passed bill cleared the House on a 219-212 vote. While it heads to the Senate, democratic leaders say they have the votes to pass it.
After nearly a year of setbacks and negotiation, from the East Room President Barack Obama said the House vote today wasn't an easy vote - it was the right vote. He added that tonight's vote was not a victory for a political party, but a victory for the American people.
There are many important provisions for Guam included in the newly-approved health care reform package, which was given the green light by Congress today. Such include:
- Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping coverage for pre-existing conditions, gender rating will be banned, and insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping coverage after an individual becomes sick
- Territories like Guam will have the option to create a local health insurance exchange where those who are eligible and uninsured can purchase affordable health insurance.
- Starting in Fiscal Year 2011, the Medicaid cap will increase to approximately $24 million. For Fiscal Year 2012, the Medicaid cap will receive a 182% increase to $42 million and increases will continue until Fiscal Year 2019 when Guam's Medicaid funding will be roughly $58 million. Further, the overall federal share of health care costs will be increased.
- The territories will continue to have flexibility in implementing Medicaid to meet local needs and the new funding puts the territories on a path to full parity. Each territory will have a one-time option to "opt-in" to state (or territory)-based insurance exchanges in 2014. If Guam opts out of the insurance exchange, its share of funds will be allotted to Guam's Medicaid funding instead.
- Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki have released statements clarifying that the military health care system and the veterans health care system will not be affected by the new health care reforms, because these programs and TriCare already meet the minimum standards for health insurance plans for military personnel and veterans
Guam Congressional Delegate Madeleine Bordallo commenting on the passage says this is an important bill for Guam and the U.S. territories because the health care reform package will have real, immediate, and lasting improvements on healthcare for all Americans including residents of the territories.