Burr: Reject reform bills|Sends mixed messages on bipartisan harmony

Published 12:06 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

Daily News Correspondent

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr doesn’t want to keep the federal government out of health care.
He acknowledges the government is already involved in health care, especially with Medicaid, Medicare and veterans’ services.
However, the North Carolina Republican differs with some of his Democratic colleagues on just how deeply, and in what ways, the government should be involved in health-care reform.
That’s not to say reform isn’t necessary, he stressed.
“I think you have to have health-care reform,” the state’s senior senator told the Daily News on Thursday.
The problem is that, so far, the major reform proposals that have cleared congressional committees are too expensive and don’t reduce costs over time, Burr said.
The Congressional Budget Office has described health-care reform as “a central issue in the 111th Congress, driven especially by growing concern about the number of people without insurance coverage and continual increases in cost.”
The CBO forecasts ballooning federal budget deficits because of health-care costs, noting that the “federal budget is on an unsustainable path primarily because of the rising cost of health care.”
Despite obvious party divisions, in the interview Burr indicated there is room for compromise in the more traditionally cooperative Senate.
He said he and his staff spent 56 1/2 hours “marking up” a Senate reform bill and saw several amendments adopted.
The House and Senate will likely coalesce around some sort of reform measure late this year, he suggested.
“Some compromise has to be arranged if we’re going to have health-care reform,” Burr said. “I sort of laid out my three requirements: It has to cover everybody; it has to invest in prevention, wellness and chronic disease management; it has to be certified as financially sustainable.”
According to the White House and CBO Web sites, preventive care is part of President Barack Obama’s reform plans. The White House argues that providing a public-insurance option would bring down health-care costs over time, adding that the cost of doing nothing would be greater than the cost of system change.
Burr and other Republicans disagree.
“We’re out of money,” Burr said. “We’re broke.”
On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., has signed on to legislation that her Web site says “stabilizes health care costs and ensures a pre-existing condition does not prevent you from getting coverage.”
Hagan serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which produced the bill, Hagan wrote in an opinion piece for the Charlotte Observer.
“Democrats and Republicans had input in this bill and the committee adopted 197 amendments, 161 of which were Republican,” she wrote. “The committee passed the bill July 15.”
A call to Hagan’s press secretary wasn’t immediately returned Thursday.
In remarks to members and invited guests of the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday morning at Beaufort County Community College, Burr said he doesn’t support any of the four different bills under consideration in the House and Senate.
Asked by GOP Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson whether Republicans would “climb on” with Democratic health care-reform measures in the fall, Burr pointedly replied: “No, sir. Not as long as I’ve got breath.”
Burr is one of the prime backers of the Patients’ Choice Act, a bill that relies on tax credits partly to help individuals and families cover health care costs.
The bill is not one of the major proposals being considered by Congress.
Burr said the bill promotes the idea that health-care benefits should be taxed as ordinary income “whether you work or whether you don’t work, regardless of where you live, regardless of what your income is.”
The bill would provide a $2,500 tax credit to individuals and a $5,700 credit to families.
“That money is available to them for one of two things,” Burr said. “It’s to pay the tax consequences of an employer-provided plan or to pay the health-care costs of them and their families. Health-care cost is (the) premium on health insurance or preventative care.”
While the plan is reported to be revenue-neutral, and thus wouldn’t add to the nation’s deficit, critics argue that it wouldn’t go far enough toward bridging the gap between the health care that families need and what they can afford.
The annual health-insurance premium for a family of four totals around $12,700, according to the National Coalition on Health Care, a broad-based group of labor, business and health organizations that describes itself as “the nation’s largest … alliance working to improve America’s health care.”