Tester breaks down the Health Care Reform bill


by Angela Douglas

BILLINGS – When the health care reform bill was passed by the U.S. Senate, critique and praise immediately followed.

But many questions still linger about how the new legislation's affect on the average American.

In an effort to answer those enquiries U.S. Senator for Montana, Jon Tester, is making the rounds in eastern Montana hosting forums on health care reform.

On Tuesday he held a "Q and A" in Billings.

"The law will not raise taxes on 99% of Montanans," Sen. Tester stated before the questions started rolling in.

During the session Tester and his panel touched on seven different groups in Montana and how they'll be affected by the bill.

For Farmers and Ranchers, the self-employed will have access to affordable insurance, they won't have to cover temporary or part-time workers, unless they employ more than 50 full time employees, and 20% of funding for health training and education goes to rural and frontier communities.

Small business guidelines were a hot topic at the meeting.  Tax credits are available if the small business insures their employees and insurance coverage is required if you employ more than 50 full-time employees.

"If you've got less than 50 employees, you're exempt," Tester explained.  "But if you want to give health care to those 50 or 10 employees, whatever you may have, there's great tax credits in the bill to help you pay for that."

Seniors are guaranteed their Medicare benefits are completely protected and the new reform will completely close the "doughnut hole" on prescription drug costs by 2020.

For Indian Country, the bill permanently reauthorizes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and American Indians can choose their own providers.

Working Montanans will see no health care benefit tax until 2018, when plans costing more than $10,200 per year will be taxed.  There will also be caps on out-of-pocket costs.

Students enrolled in college can be covered by their parents' or guardians' insurance until they're 26 years old.  Also, insurance companies can't deny coverage to anyone because of pre-existing conditions.

As for Veterans, no changes are needed if you're covered by military or veterans' benefits.  All benefits are completely protected.

During the meeting many questions surrounding these policies were asked.  Some agreed with the legislation, while others didn't.  

"It's offensive when Speaker Palosi does say, publicly, that people are going to go to jail if they don't buy this.  That's criminalizing," stated a forum attendee against the bill.  "But has anyone up here read, individually, the entire bill?"  Tester was the only one on the panel who had read the entire bill.

"Opinions are opinions.  Ideas are ideas," said Tester.  "We're looking for good ideas all the time, so we appreciate folks standing up and saying their piece."

According to Tester the bill will save hundreds of billions of dollars a year in the long run.