At the end of July California 1st District Congressman Mike Thompson held a teleconference for constituents on the current attempts in Congress to reform the healthcare system. Despite my disagreeing with Mike about what the absolute best course for the nation would be, I found him to be quite competent in answering questions about the options before Congress. Some callers' questions originated in myths being put forward by the predators in the medical and health insurance industries, and by sections of the Republican party. Mike was able to state the facts to listeners in a way that showed their talking points were not factually based, without insulting them.
Because of the length of the conference, this report is selective. I have also attempted to rationalize the ordering of information, since the questions were asked quite randomly.
"Most people I have talked to recognize there is a need to change our system, although they don't always agree about the specifics of those changes... Right now health care spending is about 20% of our country's growth domestic product ... In California between 1990 and 1997 our insurance premiums increased by over 95%," said Thompson in his opening remarks. "Our current system of healthcare is not sustainable and we need to get it fixed."
Why are you not supporting Universal Healthcare? All the bills have universal health care intent. There is confusion in terminology. Universal health care means health care for everyone. Single Payer is when all health care is under control of the government. Also there is the Public Option, which would be a regular insurance policy administered by the government. I support Universal Healthcare. Everyone should have access to affordable health care.
The House bill applies to everyone except illegal immigrants. It does not force anyone to take the public option. But there would be minimum standards for all policies sold. They could not deny coverage for pre-existing illness. It would cap out-of-pocket costs at $5000 per individual. Preventive care must be covered with no co-payments. Insurers won't be able to drop their customers when they become ill. With more people covered, the government won't need to pay for them when they arrive at emergency rooms without coverage.
The expense of health care is hurting U.S. economic competitiveness. The upward costs are hurting everyone, including businesses. Every time we delay health care reform it becomes more expensive. Many consituents already spend more on healthcare insurance than they do on their mortgages. Some businesses are being forced to drop health care coverage for their employees. Insurance has to follow individuals, so that you do not lose it if you lose your job or change your job.
What will the cost be? It is difficult for everyone to comprehend. The ten year House bill being considered is for ten years and one trillion dollars. $500 million would come from a surtax on the wealthiest Americans. $500 million would come from Medicare savings. But things may change before the final bill. The bill will be deficit neutral.
Taxing people's health car benefits? The House bills, there are three currently, don't have that provision. It was part of Senator McCain's campaign position. It is possible it will be added to a Senate bill, but it has not so far.
How does this program differ from socialized medicine? Universal health care is not socialized medicine. It uses the private sector. Medicare and the Veterans Administration are examples of government run health programs that people are satisfied with. Government run health care does work. The bill being considered works with the current private providers we already have. The public plan would just be one option you can choose from among many.
Abortion? There is no mention of abortion in the bill. The Hyde Amendment states federal money cannot be used for abortions. But the bill would not prohibit insurance companies from covering abortion services. Neither would it force them to cover abortions.
Insurance company profits? When non-profit insurers switched to being for-profit, dollars that could have gone to health went to profits. Insurance company profits have been high. The bill does address that issue, and a lot of savings should be available.
The pharmaceutical industry believes it can find $100 billion in savings without harming patients. More savings can be had with provisions like telemedicine.
Section 1233, advanced care planning, is that for assisted suicide? No. These are consultations allowing people to make directives in advance about their medical care before they lose the ability to convey their wishes to doctors. The section in the bill is a reimbursement code for doctors. It is completely voluntary for patients.
Is change of diet and exercise addressed by the bill? Imagine how tough it would be for the federal government to tell people what to eat and how to exercise. But everyone should consider what they eat and how much they exercise. In the bill preventitive medicine is mainly screenings, and no copay is allowed. There is nutrition counseling provided for pre-diabetes. If people see health providers more frequently they should be getting more advice about diet and exercise.
How would the bill help the self-employed? You would be able to buy insurance through the exchange, so your premiums would be lower and you would know exactly what you were getting. You also could not be dropped from coverage if you get sick, and you can get coverage if you have a pre-existing condition.
Have you read the bill? Actually, yes. Our committee spent 90 hours together reading through the bill line by line.
Blue Dog Coalition? I am a Blue Dog, our central issue is fiscal responsibility. On healthcare Blue Dogs are all over the map and are not likely to vote as a block.
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Mike Thompson is the current elected member of the United States House of Representatives for California's 1st Congressional District.