I am disappointed by the half-truths and misperceptions about the critically needed health care system reform efforts underway in Congress and my telephone town hall. A few of the letters recently published here are inaccurate in their understanding of the substance of H.R. 3200, America's Affordable Health Choices Act, and misleading in their assessment of my outreach efforts to my constituents. I would like to respond to a couple of the more spurious claims made in recent letters to the editor.

First, neither H.R. 3200, the health reform bill introduced in the House of Representatives, nor the versions introduced in the Senate, take away anyone's health insurance or force them into a public option. Approximately 46 million people in the United States have no health insurance and, as a result, have no access to affordable preventative and routine health care. They live in fear of illness or accidents could bankrupt them and their families. The private insurance market has failed them and the many insured Americans who suffer through the byzantine maze of private insurance bureaucracy bankrupted or nearly so by hidden fees, lifetime caps, and bars on participation because of pre-existing conditions. Private health insurance is largely affordable only for those with a job that offers such benefits jobs increasingly rare in a time when businesses struggle with the high cost of providing insurance and continued national economic instability.

Second, the public option


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is not tied to employment status and will operate alongside the private plans in the health insurance exchange. The exchange is structured so that individuals and small businesses will be able to compare the offerings of each plan, public and private, in order to make an informed decision about which of the many options they would like to choose. The private insurance market remains intact, albeit with changes to make it more accessible to those with pre-existing conditions. H.R. 3200 requires that plans participating in the exchange be explained, clearly and simply, so that individuals can understand the details and mandates of coverage. These requirements protect consumers by providing accurate information and a structure on which to judge the offerings of different plans. The public option must be strong enough to compete with the health insurance industry monopolies, affordable for families and individuals, and offer a high quality insurance alternative to private insurance in order to spur competition and drive down the cost of health care.

Third, this reform bill protects small businesses, eases financial pressure on the many small business owners in our area, and allows more families to access insurance by offering subsidies to subsidize the cost of buying public or private plans in the exchange. Subsidies are only available to American citizens and legal permanent residents and the bill maintains existing documentation requirements in order to ensure that taxpayers are benefiting from the insurance reforms. I have spoken with many small business owners in our congressional district who desperately need this assistance to provide health insurance to their employees.

Fourth, the public option is a small part of a huge effort to overhaul the whole healthcare system in America, as the president has noted. Because of the complexity of our healthcare system, H.R. 3200 and the amended versions of the bill, go beyond the creation of the Health Exchange and public option discussed briefly here. Cost containment measures estimated to save $500 billion are built into the fabric of the bill, including incentives to reduce hospital re-admissions, investments in fraud detection, and savings obtained from the pharmaceutical industry. One of the most important aspects of the bill locks in rebates from the pharmaceutical companies for seniors. Another important aspect invests in our health care workforce; it increases funding for National Health Service Corps for high-need areas, creates new scholarship and loan repayment programs for primary care providers and invests in nurses and public health workers. All these investments are critically important as we evolve into a more sustainable prevention-based model.

Opponents of reform object that the process is hurried, obscure, or that the details of the bill have been hidden from the public. In fact, H.R. 3200 has been crafted over the past eight months. A draft has been available for public view since late spring. The committees working on the bill have met with hundreds of groups, posted the bill online in its entirety along with summaries of the bill, fact sheets, and texts of amendments on their publicly available Web sites. Furthermore, the markup process has been streamed live and shown on C-Span. I have heard from thousands of constituents from our district about their needs and opinions on this critical legislation.

Lastly, with regard to the claim that the participants in my town hall were "pre-selected," the fact is that the telephone town hall meeting on Sept. 1 was open to all interested participants. Our telephone technology capacity allowed up to 40,000 callers, and each constituent that requested to participate was included on the call. I chose the telephone town hall format expressly because it enables me to speak with thousands of constituents at their leisure, in their homes, and in such a way that they can clearly hear responses to their questions. At the many in-person town halls I have held since it Congress, only a few hundred people attended.

In fact, in a recent study, the Congressional Management Foundation, a non-profit non-partisan organization, found that overall satisfaction rates of these "virtual town halls" exceeded 90 percent, and far outpaced satisfaction in traditional in-person town halls. The Congressional Management Foundation also found that engagement in these types of town halls cuts across normal participation groups, and included seniors, women, minorities, and diverse lower-income brackets more than ever before.

There are some who have already made up their minds about the health reform bills in Congress but I hope that those who are genuinely interested in accurate information participated in my telephone town hall last Tuesday, and will continue to share their thoughts with me and my office.

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Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, serves on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, and is a former teacher, school principal and school board member.