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Health Care Forum Big Draw in SW County

Congressman Bob Goodlatte (right) fields questions on health care at Hidden Valley High School.
Congressman Bob Goodlatte (right) fields questions on health care at Hidden Valley High School.

U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte (6th District) held a town hall meeting that was attended by over 600 people last week at Hidden Valley High School.  He opened with this caveat: “I think most people agree that we need to have health care reform in this country.  However, let me say that the proposal that has worked its way through the House of Representatives right now is one that I simply cannot support.”

The reason for Goodlatte’s stance is a plan that would entail 53 new government agencies by his count. A key element is the public insurance option, which could impose dramatic changes to everyone’s health care in the country.

He is also concerned about cost estimates that run from one to two trillion dollars.  To pay for the plan, said Goodlatte, many small business owners might suffer the tax burdens; he pointed to a proposed 8% tax on businesses that do not offer health insurance, saying it could either drive some out of business, or they could move overseas. “The concern is that those taxes coming in the current economic climate would not be at all helpful, and the estimates are that we could lose millions of jobs.”

Goodlatte cited studies that say 100 to 120 million people may lose their private health insurance because of a government plan that competes with private health insurance (the largely Democratic base that supports health care reform refutes many of the numbers quoted by opponents.)

“Employers that are currently providing private coverage could drop that benefit, pay the 8% tax and let the employees go over into the government option, because it is less than the amount that they are paying.”  Goodlatte added, “A government plan that would write the rules for everybody and that would be subsidized to the tune of one to two trillion dollars would be a pretty unfair competitor for the private insurance plans, setting in motion the slippery slope to have nationalized health care, completely government run.”

Referring to the 45.7 million people in this country that do not have health insurance, Goodlatte cited statistics from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation that narrows the actual number of “American citizens” that cannot obtain health insurance, for various reasons, to 7.8 million people.  This group represents about three percent of the population.

Goodlatte stated that he believes it is the wrong way to go to dramatically change health care for 250 million people to address this need.  Another group of 9.1 million people are temporarily uninsured (between jobs), and many of these would be accommodated by provisions that he supports, such as the portability of coverage and pre-existing conditions.  The rest are either not American citizens, make over $84,000 and can afford health insurance, or are already eligible, but not enrolled in other programs such as Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

The nine-term Congressman, speaking to a friendly crowd, outlined what he believes should be included in health care reform, such as the creation of  “Association Health Plans” which are designed to expand coverage options for small businesses by allowing them to pool together.  Goodlatte also believes that Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, like those he receives, would be a good model to build reform upon.

“Federal employees have scores of plans offered by dozens of insurance companies that compete with each other, not for the government’s decision, but for the individual employee’s decision,” said Goodlatte. “The FEHBP consists of truly competing private plans, with no public plan enjoying a sweetheart deal.  It has private options available throughout the nation that even the sickest employees can afford.”

He also thinks there should be changes in the current laws, changes that do not necessarily have to be included in one massive bill, such as leveling the tax playing field where individuals will get the same tax benefits when purchasing insurance that an employer gets. Changes could also allow insurance companies to:  offer insurance across state lines (now prohibited) so they could have larger pools of people to help spread the risk; encourage completely tax free health care savings accounts that can be used for any type of health care or insurance; make information about health care more transparent, thus allowing patients to make more informed decisions about their care; and encourage and improve health information technology.

Goodlatte believes that the cost of health care is very much affected by medical malpractice laws and advocates for liability reform. Many doctors have told him that because of the current malpractice threat, they have to practice defensive medicine, often ordering tests and procedures to show that they have tried everything and tested for everything possible.  The cost of these can add tens of billions of dollars to health care costs, said Goodlatte.

One speaker asked if Congress was willing to drop their current health care insurance coverage and come under the public option, whether it should be passed.  Goodlatte said he had “co-sponsored a bill that proposes that anyone who votes for the plan would be required to take the government option.”

One attendee stated that she was neither left nor right, but said she was concerned that we are in debt up to our eyeballs to a country that is not our friend (China).  Goodlatte took the opportunity to speak about the federal budget deficit and how he has continually voted for the tightest budget offered every time.

Another person asked the question, “Why do we need 34 czars?”  Goodlatte responded that he believes that Congress has ceded far too much authority to the executive branch of our government, and that it is not just a problem with the Obama administration.

Goodlatte is also concerned about proposed Medicare cuts to help pay for the plan and the discontinuation of Medicare Advantage plans.  “We need more alternatives like the Medicare Advantage and other programs like that try to bring more competition into the system, but instead we are going in the opposite direction where we are taking money out of the program to pay for another new one. We are going to do that at a time when [there will be] a pretty dramatic rise in the number of Medicare recipients due to the baby boomers.”

Those attending the town hall meeting seemed to overwhelmingly approve of Goodlatte’s positions on health care; however there were questioners who were at odds with his positions.  One criticized the Republican motive in fighting the proposed plan as being solely designed to bring President Obama down.

Another asked why the moderates of both parties could not come together on this issue.  Goodlatte responded, “With the exception of one committee in the Senate, no Republican has been invited to the table for any of the discussions in any of the House committees.”  He said that Republicans have attempted to be a part of the process.  According to Goodlatte, the President said he was “all for bipartisanship,” but not if it was going to hold up the bill.  “I don’t drink beer, but if the President invites me over to talk to him, I am going to bring my list. You can count on it,” said Goodlatte.  “I hope he changes his tack… I think he should throw this thing out and start over again.”

By Dot Overstreet
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