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Budget bill “punitive”…causing “real harm to real people”

December 20, 2005
Dear Senator:
Consumers Union, the independent, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, is deeply alarmed by the negative impact the Budget Reconciliation bill will have on all consumers, especially low-income families, minorities, and the elderly. This budget cutting measure makes sweeping and burdensome changes to everything from federal healthcare policy to student loan programs, and even upends the ability of millions of Americans to have their televisions work in the future. Therefore, we urge Senators to vote against this harmful legislation, and go back to the drawing board to enact a more balanced bill. Senators should vote against this harmful legislation.
Consider, for example, the bill’s provisions as they relate to Medicaid. They will increase cost sharing and reduce services for some of the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. Medical research is clear: increased co-pays mean that low-income Americans often will go without care for what may be key, life-saving services. Untreated, the cough can become pneumonia; the operable lump can become fatal cancer; the emotional warning sign can become suicidal behavior.
These cuts on the most vulnerable would not be necessary if the Conference Committee had retained the Senate’s changes in drug company reimbursement and reductions in the unnecessary managed care stabilization fund. To exempt the drug companies and insurers from these cuts, while making access to healthcare even more difficult for low-income families, is simply bad healthcare policy.
The digital television compensation program established by this bill is also unworkable and unacceptable for consumers, and especially harsh for our nation’s most vulnerable populations. The bill mandates a date for switching all television signals from analog to digital, thereby rendering inoperable some 80 million televisions in at least four in ten households, many of them minority, elderly and low income. Unfortunately, the bill provides only a fraction of the funds needed to compensate consumers for the costs of a government-mandated digital transition that they never asked for. It also requires consumers to jump through restrictive hoops to obtain the limited compensation provided in the bill, such as requiring consumers to request vouchers from the government, and limiting the window of time during which such vouchers are available. The result will be those who most need the compensation are least likely to receive it.
The budget reconciliation bill is punitive, and will cause real harm to real people. Consumers Union urges the Senate to reject this unfair legislation.
Gene Kimmelman
Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
Washington Office