United States Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) discussed health care reform legislation and its impact on the public health community yesterday during a talk with members of the School of Public Health.

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, Stabenow has been involved in the debate over the health care reform bill that President Barack Obama signed into law on March 23.

Speaking to a packed auditorium, Stabenow provided a timeline of health care changes that will take effect over the next eight months. Many of these changes will directly impact members of the University community, she said. Throughout the talk, Stabenow emphasized that health care affordability was the driving force behind the legislation.

“The bottom line is this is about making a commitment in this country…and finding a way for people to get health insurance,” Stabenow said.

According to Stabenow, some of the changes to take effect immediately include tax cuts for small businesses with fewer than 25 employees to help them provide health care benefits and increased investment in community health centers in more than 10,000 communities.

The bill also provides access to a special fund, which will be available starting at the end of June, for patients with pre-existing conditions to pay for medical expenses. The fund will remain available until the ban on denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions takes effect in six months, Stabenow said.

In response to a question from an audience member about how the public should understand the complex bill, Stabenow said different aspects of the bill will affect different groups of people.

“Everyone will have a different focus depending on who they are,” she said.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Stabenow said one of the most important aspects of the bill for students is that it allows them to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26. If their parents do not have insurance, Stabenow said, the students will have the option of a low-cost young adult plan.

Stabenow also told the Daily that with the new legislation students should seriously consider going into the health care profession.

She said the new legislation will vastly increase the number of people who are able to afford medical care, resulting in a “huge boon for the health care industry,” which is partially why, according to Stabenow, the American Medical Association supported the bill. With the new pool of customers, she said, there will be a greater demand for health care professionals.

As an incentive for students to go into the health care field, the bill also increases funding for scholarships, loans and grants for students working towards careers in health care. Stabenow said there’s also a student loan repayment program for graduates who work in health care for at least three years.

According to Stabenow, there will be cuts in funding for health care institutions because they will have more customers, but she said the bill does not explicitly call for cuts in doctors’ and nurses’ incomes.

Keeping in mind her audience, Stabenow highlighted preventive care as one of the most crucial features of the legislation.

“There is a major new focus on prevention that all of you will be involved with,” Stabenow said.

According to Stabenow, all new health plans will be required to provide free preventive care with no co-pays or deductibles, and there will be incentives for people to participate in “healthy lifestyle programs.”

She concluded the talk on a very optimistic note, saying the political dynamic is going to change from “Do we want health care reform or not?” to “How do we make this work?”

She said there will be many opportunities down the road to build on the bill, including a re-examination of the public option, which she said she supports.

“It’s all up to you guys on how we move forward,” she said. “There’s a framework…and a value system, but we are just in the beginning of a process that each one of you will help us shape.”

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