Recent news tells us that the American economy is continuing to move in the right direction, creating private sector jobs for 12 months in a row. The Obama administration has worked hard to turn around the economy. And last year's compromise to reduce taxes, as well as the tax relief provided to small businesses by health insurance reform, have also provided necessary certainty to help get businesses to hire again.
But this week, some in Congress would end this economic certainty by repealing the new health care law. Repeal would be a mistake for rural America. Not only would it take away certainty from small businesses that are increasingly looking to hire and offer health care to their employees, but also it would take away important changes to our health care system that are already benefiting families across the nation.
Today, the health care law means that children can no longer be refused coverage because of pre-existing conditions. And insurance companies can no longer cancel your coverage without cause when you get sick. If Congress repeals the law, insurance companies could once again shut these families out.
The new law has eliminated lifetime dollar limits on benefits. Repeal would mean that folks once again risk losing their health insurance when they are very sick and need it the most.
The law requires insurers to cover prevention and wellness benefits free-of-charge, so families never pay out of pocket for immunizations or tests to detect diabetes and cancer. Repeal of the bill would force many rural Americans to skip the preventative care they need — leading to more health problems and increased costs in the long run.
And for years, many rural communities have had shortages of doctors and nurses. The law supports the training, education and placement of thousands of new primary care providers for small towns. And to make it easier for rural doctors to serve their communities, it increases Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates and expands the capacity of Community Health Centers. Repealing the law will end these investments and punish rural doctors.
Finally, rural Americans know how to live within a budget, and they expect government to do the same. But if congressional Republicans are successful in repealing this law, it would increase the federal budget deficit by $230 billion within a decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
For far too long, rural Americans have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to health care. Fewer rural Americans insured, they often skip care they need, and they pay more out-of-pocket.
But our new health care law is changing that and building a better quality of life for rural communities. It is lowering health care costs, guaranteeing more choices to families and enhancing the quality of care. What's more, it is helping small businesses with tax credits and providing the certainty our economy needs to keep growing.
We cannot go back to days when we took away coverage from cancer patients, when a mother would skip the mammogram her doctor recommended to pay her rent, when a senior citizen had to make the choice each week between the medicine they needed or dinner. For the long term health of our economy, our families and communities across rural America, we cannot afford the repeal of this legislation.
Tom Vilsack is the U.S. secretary of agriculture.