Congressman Ed Markey – whose district includes Malden – made his case for health care reform on Monday night at Arlington Town Hall, warning a crowd of about 300 that the status quo continues to bankrupt families throughout the nation.
Markey said hundreds of families in his district went bankrupt last year trying to pay their medical bills.
“This is a very real issue,” he said, noting that while fighting terrorism remains a top priority in Washington, “the real terrorist” for many constituents is a costly, hereditary condition, such as diabetes or Alzheimer's.
Markey said that for many citizens, a public health insurance option pending in Congress would reduce costs.
"For many Americans, the public option will be the only option, and we just have to be realistic about that," Markey said.
Though he touted the bills pending in the US House and Senate, Markey fielded tough questions on a proposed insurance exchange program and children's coverage, among other issues.
Abby Vigneron of Arlington asked if the reform package would allow her to keep her insurance plan whenever she switched jobs.
"I don't want to have to change health plans every time," she said.
Markey told her that the exchange - which would include private plans and a government option for all Americans to choose from - would improve quality of care across the board.
"The national health insurance exchange is like a health care supermarket," he said, adding that under terms of the plan, a family of four earning less than $88,000 per year would be eligible for a public option subsidy.
Dr. Carole Allen, president of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, wondered if reform would limit coverage currently offered under the federal Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for middle and low-income families.
"Many of my pediatric colleagues are worried that kids will be worse off after health care reform," Allen said, since the House plan would roll CHIP benefits into the exchange.
Markey pledged that the House - which voted to expand the CHIP program this year - wouldn't let kids slip through the cracks.
"I can give you my absolute guarantee that we will not compromise those programs," he said.
Markey also fended off critics who said reform would put private insurers out of business and provide coverage for undocumented workers. He said the latter was impossible under terms of the plan, and that insurers would have to improve their practices to hang onto customers.
But Arlington resident John Deyst said he doubted a public option would come to pass, since the Senate bill has no government plan.
"The debate between the Senate and the House should be between single payer and the public option, as opposed to the public option and nothing," Deyst said.
Markey insisted that the public option would pass in the House version in about two weeks, and that supporters would "fight it out" in the upper chamber. And no matter what happens, he said, health care will improve.
"It'll be a giant, historic step forward," he said.