Jones: Get it done|Congressman urges debate on health care

Published 2:33 pm Saturday, August 29, 2009

Daily News Correspondent

CHOCOWINITY — U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., R-N.C., dropped a copy of the U.S. House of Representatives’ version of health-care reform on a table.
It fell with a thud.
His message didn’t.
Jones found a receptive, overflow audience Thursday night at a Down East Republican Club meeting in a Chocowinity restaurant.
But before the meeting, he took time out to elaborate his position on the health-care proposals floating around Washington, D.C.
“This is the House version,” he said, indicating the thick stack of papers before him. “But still, this is not the final bill because there are three committees that came out and passed bills out of the committees. But this is the one that they put on the Web site, so you can tell the American people this is the House bill.”
Of course, the bill will go through changes before it reaches the House floor for debate, perhaps incorporating aspects of other bills, he added.
Congress, now in recess, reconvenes next month.
Jones suggested that some sort of health-care legislation can be passed this year if the Democratic leadership allows Republicans their place at the negotiating table.
“That has not happened yet,” he said.
Apparently, Jones was not referring to action on the Senate side.
According to a recent Reuters report, key Senate Democrats and Republicans are attempting to craft a compromise on health care, which is widely seen as the linchpin of Democratic fortunes ahead of the mid-term elections.
Speaking of public response to the push for reform, Jones said that from February until the end of June he met with “many doctors and nurses and hospital administrators — I would say well over 100 — that came to the office to talk to me about health care.”
“And,” he continued, “each and every one said, ‘Our health-care system needs reforms.’ But they also said, ‘We don’t need a massive takeover by the federal government.’”
In the medical professionals vein, the North Carolina Hospital Association, a trade group of 135 hospitals and medical networks, has released a statement that falls short of praise for what’s on the table.
“Hospitals will support reform that expands access for the uninsured beyond our emergency departments, fuels collaboration and efficiency by incentivizing providers, enhances quality and ensures financial stability,” the statement reads. “The reform packages need to refocus on these achievable elements and broaden payment reform. Cutting funding does not equate with cutting costs.”
“Right now, we’re not seeing the effort at bringing down the cost of providing care that we would like to see,” NCHA spokesman Don Dalton said recently. “Our history has been that any time the Congress makes an estimate of what things in health care will cost, it is nowhere near accurate.”
Jones said he favors “slowing the train down.”
“Take as much time as you need to address the serious problems facing our health-care system,” he said.
Jones was asked for his opinion on a public-insurance option, a specific aspect of the legislation forwarded by President Barack Obama and some Democratic lawmakers. He was also asked about some reform advocates’ apparent drift toward nonprofit health-insurance cooperatives.
In mid-August, the White House showed signs of perhaps accepting co-ops, according The New York Times, but the administration has downplayed that stance in response to criticism from hard-line Democrats who want a public option, various cable news outlets have reported.
In reply to the public option or co-op questions, Jones said: “I cannot at this point — the co-op conversation is being driven mainly by the Senate side. In fact, the Democrat who is chairman of the committee, he has been an advocate of having a discussion of the possibility of co-ops being in a bill.”
A public option was central to a white paper distributed in November 2008 by the office of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
In the paper, Baucus argues for a health-insurance exchange, allowing those “who already have health coverage … to keep what they have.”
“But for those who need affordable, guaranteed coverage, the Exchange would be a marketplace where Americans could easily compare and purchase the plans of their choice,” the paper reads. “Private insurers offering coverage through the Exchange would be precluded from discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Premium subsidies would be available to qualifying families and small businesses.”
Questions about Baucus’s continued commitment to a public option have been raised by reports on Web sites like Politico and the Huffington Post.
Jones said he hasn’t been privy to health-care wrangling in the House because he doesn’t serve on a committee of jurisdiction that can directly influence reform.
“But I will tell you the truth, since Aug. 5 I have traveled well over 2,200 miles in the 3rd (his) District of North Carolina,” he said. “I haven’t had as much time to analyze what the Senate is discussing, but I will say that many of us are looking at every aspect of what will help bring the cost of insurance down to working people. But this bill is too much.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill on the table would cost $1 trillion, he said.