Health-care views given

Published 1:51 am Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Staff Writer

If the door has closed on the chance for bipartisan health-care reform in this election year, you might not know it by listening to some members of the state’s congressional delegation.
In a series of interviews, four members of the U.S. House and Senate from North Carolina explained their positions on health-care reform.
The Washington Daily News queried U.S. Reps. Walter B. Jones Jr., R-N.C., and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.; and U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Richard Burr, R-N.C. — none of whom favored giving up on reform, despite the partisan rancor dominating the discussion in Washington, D.C.
In their remarks, the four went beyond the usual news releases and prepared statements posted on their Web sites, providing clarity that cut through the deal-blocking rhetoric making headlines on political blogs.
Of the four, Hagan might be in the best position to influence future health-care legislation because her party is in power and she sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
But Hagan also is a freshman senator, and she lacks the seniority needed to be out front and drive the debate.
Burr also serves on the HELP Committee, but his party doesn’t hold the majority in the Senate.
Also, it looks as if the committees already have done their work in drafting health-care legislation, and national media reports indicate the White House is trying to move the process forward by piecing together elements of the House and Senate bills.
Still, all four of these officeholders will get to vote on future health-care bills while they’re in office, and none of them will lack for opinions on these issues.
Jones and Butterfield favored starting anew on reform, and both said that the measure approved in the House wasn’t a bipartisan one.
“Reasonable minds can probably disagree as to whether we made enough effort to get Republican involvement, but the fact of the matter is that we had no Republican input whatsoever, so the bill ended up being a Democratic bill,” Butterfield told the Daily News recently.
Speaking before President Barack Obama’s televised health-care summit Thursday, Butterfield indicated he held out hope for health-care solutions that bridged the gap between the aisles.
“Everything that I had hoped for is in the House version of the bill,” he said.
The cost of the average insurance policy is rising by $150 per month, per family of four, or $1,800 per year, Butterfield said, underscoring the urgency of the problem.
“It’s hurting the bottom line of businesses, and it’s hurting the disposable income of families,” he asserted.
Jones indicated that tort reform was a missing link in the House bill.
“That is definitely an issue that needs to be part of the discussion,” he said.
Jones said Congress should go back to square one on health care and start “listening to the American people.”
“This is an opportunity for a new start to help the American people and to do it in the right way,” he said.
Republicans frequently argue there should be cap on monetary damages awarded to people who successfully sue doctors and hospitals, in part blaming lawsuits and ballooning malpractice-insurance premiums for driving up health care costs.
Hagan acknowledged that bipartisanship was abandoned in the reform debate, even though many of the 161 amendments to the Senate bill were offered by Republicans.
According to Hagan, people who have health insurance already are paying to help cover uninsured people.
“So, the reason I think we need health-care reform is because the increases in costs of health-care delivery are skyrocketing every year,” she said. “So, health-care reform is going to help stop that huge increase each year.”
Burr agreed that extending health coverage to most Americans, and holding down what they paid for that coverage, still was a worthy goal.
“Actually, we should try to work on legislation that provides an avenue for 100 percent of Americans to be covered,” he said. “We’ll have differences as to what type of coverage that is, but if we can’t eliminate the cost shift that’s currently in the health-care system then you’re not going to eliminate the incredible rise in health care that people pay.”
Burr pointed to the fact that last year he helped float the Patients’ Choice Act, a bill that depended on tax credits partly to help families and individuals cover health-care costs. (That proposal didn’t make it into the Senate legislation.)
The divisions among these four lawmakers perhaps mirror the ideological fissures separating their colleagues in Washington, D.C.
Whatever the differences, all four lawmakers contended that reform could be finalized this year — provided both sides are willing to meet in the middle.
“If we start again, we can,” said Jones.
But Jones also said Congress should take its time.
“And if it takes a year, if it takes a year and half, let’s fix it and let’s fix it right,” he said.