“'A very historic moment': Locals weigh in on the House bill”
Washington, Nov 8 -
Eureka Times Standard
North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson doesn't think the House of Representatives health care bill is perfect, but he thinks it's a historic step forward.
”I don't think it's close to perfect,” Thompson said Saturday afternoon, hours before he intended to vote for the bill. “This is like any other major piece of legislation -- we're going to be working on this forever. As long as there are people and there's a need for health care, we're going to be refining this legislation. It's the nature of the beast. But, this bill brings us one step closer to quality, affordable health care for all Americans.”
While almost all believe the nation's current health care system is in need of reform, fierce debate remains as to the best way to go about it.
The house bill would usher in a sweeping change to the system by mandating that all individuals get health care coverage or face a 2.5 percent income tax penalty. Under the bill, companies with annual payrolls of more than $500,000 would be required to provide insurance to their employees or face a penalty of 8 percent of their payroll.
Small businesses with 10 or fewer employees would get tax credits to help them provide coverage.
The bill, which is supported by the American Medical Association and the American Association of Retired People, would also issue restrictions on insurance companies, forbidding them from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and from
charging higher premiums based on pre-existing conditions or gender.
A public plan would also be created by the bill, which is designed to add competition to the marketplace and bring down costs. But, the bill does not set the reimbursement rates to providers, as earlier versions did, and instead leaves the rates to be negotiated by the Health and Human Services secretary, which some Democrats, including Thompson, say will dampen the option's ability to bring down costs through increased competition.
The bill would also remove a longstanding exemption the health insurance industry has enjoyed from antitrust laws that cover market allocation, price fixing and bid rigging, which proponents also claim will help bring down insurance costs.
”It's a good bill and it's paid for,” Thompson said.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will cost about $1 trillion over 10 years. In order to pay that price tag, the bill would raise taxes on individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million annually. The bill also factors in savings in Medicare and Medicaid; a new $20 billion fee on medical device makers; $13 billion from limiting contributions to flexible spending accounts and penalties to individuals and employers who don't obtain coverage.
All told, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will reduce the national deficit by some $30 billion over the next 10 years, according to Thompson.
But, some fear the bill would do more harm than good, including the Humboldt County Tea Party Patriots, who simply don't believe the bill will pay for itself.
Karen Brooks, spokeswoman for the group, said she also has major concerns about the public option.
”You have somebody competing in the market who regulates the market, who makes their own rules and who prints their own money,” she said. “How fair is that?”
While charging the government can't run anything well, Brooks said she's also concerned the public option will be so cheap that people flock to it, draining people from the private insurance system and resulting into a kind of government takeover of the industry.
While some, like Brooks and almost, if not every, Republican in the House, have their doubts, Thompson said his 1st Congressional District is heavily in favor of reform. He said 60 percent of his constituents want reform with a public option, with another 10 percent in favor of taking the issue a step further and instituting a single-payer system, or a system run entirely by the government.
Local health care providers also seem to want reform.
Open Door Community Health Centers CEO Hermann Spetzler agreed with Thompson that the bill isn't perfect, but that it is a solid step in the right direction.
”It is a positive step when we take on a very broken health care system,” he said. “There will be lots of devils in the details that will need to be worked out, but the fact that we are moving forward in a direction that covers millions of Americans who don't have health care and guarantees the portability of coverage for people who switch jobs, and that doesn't discriminate against people for pre-existing conditions, is really positive. But, that does not prevent the fact that there will be lots of ripples that will need to be smoothed out.”
Spetzler said the Open Door system in Humboldt County provides about $6.5 million in uncompensated care to the uninsured every year, with about a third of the people coming through the system's open door completely uninsured. Recouping those losses, Spetzler said, will allow the system to provide better service to everyone.
Spetzler said he's far from a big government guy, but is strongly in favor of the public option, and was very glad to see it resurrected and a part of the final bill.
”I'm totally entrepreneurial and a private sector individual -- I'm not at all interested in a government takeover of anything, but I am interested in preventing unbridled use of health care as a means for people making large sums of money,” he said. “I think that the public option is the best competitor to uncontrolled health care cost increases. ... You will find no administrator in the public option that makes $500 million a year, or even $1 million a year.”
Taking a more cautious approach, Joe Mark, CEO of St. Joseph Health System in Humboldt County, issued a statement supporting the push for reform.
”We support efforts to bring about health care reform and expand access to health care for those who currently have none,” Mark said in the statement. “Any health care bill that goes through will obviously have a significant impact on how our hospitals operate going forward, and we are following this issue very closely.”
Mark said the system continues to share its thoughts with Thompson, and is thankful for his willingness to consider the issues he and others in the system have raised.
”His leadership during this very important time is greatly appreciated,” Mark said.
Conceding that the system is in need of reform, Brooks said this is just not the answer.
”I have no faith that our government can solve this,” she said.
Brooks said she has a litany of concerns, including that the bill will give government too much access to her personal information, ration care, use tax dollars to fund abortions and mandate personal health decisions.
”With our last breath, we are going to fight this,” she said. “This is too important to roll over on. Every single American in this country is going to be affected.”
Thompson agreed that the legislation will have far-reaching impacts, but said most of opponents' fears are unfounded.
”I think there's just a lot of confusion,” Thompson said. “The opposition to this really went out of their way to scare people, and I think that's really unfortunate.”
But, Thompson maintained, this is a historic time. He said he loves many aspects of the bill, including that it would eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for preventative care, increase funding for telemedicine and increase access to health care for everyone.
”It's a very historic moment,” he said.
Eureka Times Standard