Tim Leeds and Alice Campbell Havre Daily News
In Wednesday's Havre Daily News, we asked four area residents what they expected to hear from President Barack Obama during his speech to Congress on health care reform. Karen Bradway, executive director of Sweet Medical Center in Chinook, said this morning she was in a meeting Wednesday evening and unable to hear the president's address. The others offered their comments. Max Erickson Max Erickson, an agent with Erickson-Baldwin Insurance Associates in havre, said he still doesn't have a good idea about what the details will be in the health care overhaul after listening to President Barack Obama's speech Wednesday evening. "Yesterday the press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president would speak clearly and directly, and this morning I still don't have an idea," Erickson said. He voiced his concern that Obama said only 5 percent of people would sign up for the government plan. Erickson said the "spirit of what they're trying to do, reform health insurance, is good" but "if it's going to be that good of a program, why would only five (percent) sign up." Low numbers would increase cost, he added. Erickson also is skeptical that the new system can keep from being bogged down and run smoothly. During the speech, Obama said "he was going to pay for it with fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid program, which congress created forty-four years ago," Erickson said. "So all of a sudden this program is going to be a lean, mean health machine when every other program they have is full of fraud, waste and abuse," he added. "And I just don't think that's going to happen." Not knowing which proposal will pass makes Erickson wonder even more what the details are. "I think the main thing is is that there're still five proposals out there," he said, adding later that "the average American doesn't know what's in the details the devil's in the details." Brad Lotton Brad Lotton, owner and operator of Lotton Construction and a member and former chair of the Hill County Republican Central Committee, said Obama’s points did not convince him the reform is a good idea. “No, he didn't,” Lotton said this morning. “This whole health care thing being nationalized scares me. The government hasn’t proven they can run anything.” One of Lotton’s problems was with Obama saying the reform would not add to the federal deficit. He said something will have to pay for the expanded coverage and new programs, which he believes can’t happen without adding to the deficit. “I don’t believe that. I guess there’s just some things in his speech I don’t believe,” Lotton said this morning. He said, although Obama did mention tort reform Lotton said Tuesday that he believes controlling the expense to the health care industry of lawsuits to be the only way to reduce costs that he was not satisfied. “He never said how he was going to fix it. He just said it was a problem” Lotton said. Lori Henderson Lori Henderson, administrator of Northern Montana Hospital’s Northern Montana Care Center, said she was impressed with Obama’s speech, although he did not answer all of the questions she had. “My personal opinion is he got out there and said things that people wanted to hear,” Henderson said, adding that she thinks the speech is likely to motivate many in Congress to work to pass reform. One of her primary concerns, that assistance in paying for long-term care for senior citizens will continue, was not addressed in Obama’s speech. Henderson said that she is concerned with an emphasis in the reform proposals on home- and community- based service for senior citizens, with no discussion of long-term care. Talks about funding the reform by cutting waste and fraud from Medicare and Medicaid could impact that issue, she said. Most of the funding for long-term care comes through those programs, Henderson said. She said she was not completely satisfied with Obama’s saying those programs will continue and even be strengthened and expanded under the proposed reform. While Obama said the programs will continue, Henderson said, he also talked about helping to pay for reform through savings by cutting waste and fraud in the programs. Henderson said medical providers already spend significant amounts of money trying to stay in compliance with Medicare and Medicaid rules, and with dealing with audits, which are becoming more and more common in Montana. Part of the problem is that the audits need to find problems in order to support themselves, Henderson said. She is concerned that the intent to make the reform budget neutral will lead to reduced services in the name of reducing waste and fraud. “The only way they can (keep it budget neutral) is to cut some places when adding to others. There have to be cuts elsewhere,” Henderson said. One of her main issues was not addressed how much autonomy states will have in implementing reform. The needs in Montana are not like the needs in most states, such as nurses often spending more time on the road to get to patients than they spend with the patients themselves. She also said that she believes it will add another layer of bureaucracy, which would add to the expense of administration and add more to an ever-more complex set of rules and regulations in the health care industry. She said she was surprised by a couple of items Obama addressed, including talking about tort reform “That is critical,” she said and his again bringing up having a public option for health insurance available. Henderson said she still has some concerns about a public option, in which the government would offer health insurance as a non-profit business as one of the insurance options available to Americans. “The true test is will it work dollar-wise,” she said. “How are they going to pay for this public plan?” Henderson said she did think that many of the comments made by the president were on-target. “He is making good sense and he talked about those kinds of things that are a long time coming,” Henderson said.