Health insurance in America costs too much, covers too few and excludes too many and it is only getting worse. We need the Affordable Health Care for America Act and we need it now.

I am not alone in supporting the current health care proposal that is moving through Congress called the Affordable Health Care for America Act. There are many of us right here in Mankato who know that the time for health care reform is now. I saw us come together and push for reform at the August town hall meeting that Congressman Tim Walz held in Mankato.

I saw us come together at monthly union meetings to write letters to our elected officials telling them why we need reform now. I watched as we came together as a community to call our elected officials and sent e-mails explaining what it would take to turn America’s health system around. We need health care reform now because the cost of doing nothing is simply too expensive.

A recent report released by the Urban Institute highlights what happens if we remain with the status quo. In Minnesota alone, delaying health care reform would hit our communities hard, with the estimated number of uninsured in 10 years skyrocketing to 577,000. Unless we enact changes now, those who manage to keep their coverage will pay an even heftier price over the next 10 years, with individual and family spending on health care increasing by 49 percent in Minnesota by 2019. Nationally, up to 57 million Americans could find themselves uninsured. And this, according to the report, is the best-case scenario.

Though working families would no doubt be among those most impacted by a failure to enact reform, again, in the best case, Minnesota’s businesses would see their premiums balloon by 76.7 percent. As Minnesotans, we need to see the health insurance system in America start working for us and our families. My neighbors, coworkers, and fellow union members understand that to fix the economy, health insurance needs to be fixed.

The Mankato Area Labor Assembly has collected hundreds of signatures, sent letters to the Senate and House, and collected scores of personal stories — all from Minnesotans who want to see the kind of health care reform that the Affordable Health Care for America Act will provide. We agree that the best way to fix the health care crisis is to provide quality, affordable health care for all. But my friends are asking, what does that really mean?

A public insurance option would be available for everyone alongside private health insurance plans and that will level the playing field. Currently private insurance plans can reduce their benefits, raise their rates, drop our family physicians and abandon our communities. A public insurance option will provide coverage and offer families security.

What the Affordable Health Care for America Act means for working families: affordable coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions. Coverage of young adults on their parents’ policies through age 26. Limits on pre-existing condition exclusions and protections for treatments for children with disabilities. Long-term protection of retiree health benefits enactment of administrative simplification. New incentives for wellness programs. The benefits will be tangible and real.

The Blue Earth County worker who works part time and doesn’t qualify for employer-based benefits would be able to afford insurance and not be denied because of her pre-existing condition. The teacher in North Mankato won’t have to worry about his son’s coverage while he struggles to look for a job after college graduation. The retired electrician in Lake Crystal can be at ease knowing his Medicare won’t be taken away. The hospital worker who lives in St. Peter will get to see her patients benefit from the wellness program incentives.

The Mankato Area Labor Assembly supports the Affordable Health Care for America Act. We are counting on Congressman Walz to also support it when it comes to a vote this weekend.

Paul Marquardt serves as president of the Mankato Area Assembly, a part of the Southeast Area Labor Council. He lives in Eagle Lake.

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