WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Senate less than a week from diving into debate on historic health legislation, Sen. Kay Hagan said Tuesday that now is the time to improve the nation's health care system.
"I think people have to get their heads around this, that we can't continue where we are right now," Hagan said in an interview in her Senate office. "We're in a window of opportunity right now, and it's time for health care reform in our country."
Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, has spent much of her first months in the Senate developing her position on health care reform.
She has been cautious about throwing her unconditional support behind President Barack Obama's plans for health care reform. And Tuesday she said she wants to see the specific bill put forward by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid before committing to a vote.
But Hagan spent weeks last summer crafting a compromise between moderates and liberals on a public option in the Senate health committee. She was among a group of female senators lobbying to get rid of sex inequities in insurance costs. And Tuesday morning, Hagan joined colleagues in a U.S. Capitol news conference about health reform's benefits for the middle class.
"We are working hard to pass this reform bill so people no longer have to fear sinking into bankruptcy as a result of one medical emergency," Hagan told reporters.
Hagan said during the interview that she remains firm on three main points of health reform: that health coverage be affordable and accessible, that a reform bill not increase the federal deficit and that insurance companies are barred from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
"Non-negotiable," she said.
The public option negotiated in the Senate health committee last summer serves as a backstop for families who are not covered by employer-based insurance or the government programs of Medicare and Medicaid.
"That narrows the group that it would be available to, but the idea is it would bring in competition," Hagan said. "I think it's going to work."
Meanwhile, Hagan said she wants to reduce the rising costs of health insurance for North Carolina families.
"People need to realize in 1998 a family of four paid $6,000 for a premium," Hagan said. "Today in North Carolina it's $12,000. In 2016, you're looking at $24,000.... We are pricing so many people out of the market."
Reid announced Tuesday that debate on the Senate's health reform legislation will begin Nov. 17 , after the Senate returns from its Veterans Day recess. A vote is expected by the end of the year.
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