I am honored to be representing District 1 in this Congress, and I am determined to make Greater Arizona's voices heard in Washington. My family has been in the district for four generations, and I want to make sure that our values and ideas are part of any national debate.
For months, I have been talking with the good people of this district about the important issues, like getting folks back to work and opposing climate legislation that would unfairly hurt our state. One of the critical issues folks have raised is health insurance reform, and I am fighting to make reform work for Arizona families.
I have always said we need a uniquely American health care plan, not one copied from another country. As part of that plan, I pledged to stop insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions and to address high prescription drug prices for our seniors. The health reform bill that passed the House of Representatives makes progress in these critical areas, and that is, in part, why I supported its passage.
This reform is as much about helping those with insurance as it is about helping those without. Right now, small businesses face rising premiums and shrinking coverage every year and can be forced to give up coverage that works for them. Individuals who pay their insurance premiums faithfully every month often find when they need coverage most that their provider will not live up to their end of the bargain. The current structure slows our economic growth and puts responsible working families at the mercy of insurance companies.
Starting in April, folks began to talk with me about the importance of health insurance reform and what principles should guide this process. Since legislation was first introduced, I have been meeting with constituents, medical providers, small business employers and seniors to discuss their thoughts and concerns. I shared Arizona's stories and ideas with Congress, and as a result dramatic improvements were made. For example, I was told repeatedly that folks should be able to buy insurance plans across state lines. This legislation, for the first time, allows states to do this.
Folks also shared with me a variety of opinions on the public insurance option. It is important to understand that I oppose any government takeover of our health care system and that this legislation rejects a Canadian or European style single-payer plan. The public insurance option simply offers consumers an additional choice within the system, using the fundamental American principle of free market competition to encourage lower costs and fair practices from all insurance providers.
Under the current structure, many areas have little competition among insurance companies, resulting in expensive premiums and deductibles with uncertain terms. They have been able to get away with outrageous abuses of their customers, and it is time to say enough is enough. I support the public insurance option because I know insurance companies must be held accountable. You will have an affordable choice you can count on and another option if you lose your job or decide to retrain for a new line of work.
In addition, the bill meets the needs of our seniors without cutting guaranteed Medicare benefits. This legislation closes the Medicare prescription drug "donut hole," fulfilling one of my campaign pledges. A new discount will go into effect next year to help address costs as the donut hole is phased out. This critical fix is necessary to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for seniors and is even more important in this economy.
Furthermore, this legislation aids our economic recovery by helping lower the cost of health care for small businesses. They are the engine of our economy, and they have seen insurance costs rise 129% in the last decade. Under this plan, small employers will see prices stabilize and have access to tax credits offsetting the cost of coverage. They will have more control over their business plans, helping small firms stay competitive and get our economy back on track.
I have heard your concerns about increasing spending and I will continue to work tirelessly to bring the fiscal discipline I was raised with in the White Mountains to Washington. I fought hard to ensure that this bill is fully paid for, and this version will cut our deficits by $36.4 billion over the next ten years. I believe that we can and must find the right balance between learning to do more with less and investing in our future.
To achieve that goal, we cannot leave health reform to the government alone. It will be the American people who get the job done, and the American people are still coming up with new ideas. This bill is only the first step. We will continue to work together, and I look forward to taking the next step with you.
Ann Kirkpatrick is Arizona's representative from Congressional District 1.