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Rehberg says, and hears, earful about health care

 

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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

Montana's Rep. Denny Rehberg said Wednesday morning that topics raised at listening sessions in his August tour of the state “have been all over the board,” but that was not the case in his session in Chester Wednesday afternoon. All but one of the questions and comments at that session were about health care reform. “I am just one of thousands and thousands of stories. I am so frustrated,” Margaret Novak said after commenting on trying to provide insurance as the co-owner of Mike's Thriftway in Chester and about personal experiences in insurance and health care. “There are so many things broken.” Rehberg, a Republican, is touring the state during August, stopping in 16 towns to hold listening sessions with his constituents. He said Wednesday morning the meetings are generally in a packed house, whether due to high interest or more efficient ways to notify voters ,he didn't know. Questions about health care dominated the meeting in Chester, held in the Liberty County Courthouse at 3 p.m. Some 35 people attended The meeting, including a representative of The New York Times. Ben Werschkul of the Times videotaped the meeting, and interviewed members of the audience afterward. He said he is spending some time in Montana covering the hot-button item for the Times. The first question asked, after Rehberg made an introduction, was about his position on health care reform. Rehberg said that is one of the two highest priorities he sees for the country. One is immigration reform, making sure that the United States is letting in the people it wants to have here but keeping out people who would cause problems. “The other issue we must fix is health care,” he said. While Rehberg said there are many problems he sees in the health care reform proposed by the House, he also said many things in health care need to be changed. “Everything is on the table,” he said. Taking it slowly Rehberg said he believes one victory already has been achieved slowing down the pace of reform to let members of Congress and the voters know what is being talked about. He said other legislation s u c h a s t h e Ame r i c a n Reinvestment and Recovery Act were rushed through so quickly no one had a chance to review them. That thas led to problems in transparency, accountability and effectiveness, he said. “Barack Obama used the economic crisis as an excuse to increase spending,” Rehberg added. He said he doesn't want to rush through the process of reforming health care. “What we're saying is, slow down. '” Rehberg said. “We want to solve it as quickly as we can, but do it the right way.” Audience member Birdie Lawson agreed. “(The government) should take the time to study where the problems are, but don't fix what isn't broken.” she said. Ron Gleason, CEO of the Liberty Medical Center, made similar comments. “I'm afraid we're going to fix things that don't need to be fixed,” he said. Gleason suggested that the government should start with its own programs inefficiencies and duplicated administrative issues in programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran's Affairs and Indian Health Services cost millions. “The government needs to look at its own programs first and fix them,” he said. Items on the table Rehberg said the two highest priorities in fixing health care are accessibility making sure everyone can get to health care, especially in remote areas like much of Montana and affordability. He said the current push may be focusing on the wrong issue the cost of health insurance. “Health insurance is just a reflection of the cost of health care,” Rehberg said. One solut ion would be increasing health insurance pools he said people should be able to pool across state lines, but federal law prevents that. “Who here does business with Geico? You can buy auto insurance across state lines from a lizard,” he said, referring to a popular series of television commercials by the insurance company, but added that you can't buy across state lines for health insurance. Rehberg said the House in 2002 passed legislation removing that barrier, but it was shot down by the Senate. He added that legislation recently was proposed to allow people to join the federal employee pool he said he carries Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, but is part of a 1.8-million-member pool but that was shot down in committee on a party-line vote. “That would have gone a long way toward decreasing your health insurance cost,” he said. He also said some regulations need to be changed an incorporated business can deduct health insurance premiums it pays for its employees, but a nonincorporated company cannot. “That doesn't make sense,” Rehberg said. He also responded to a comment from Dennis McDonald, former chair of the Montana Democratic Party who has declared his intent to run against Rehberg in 2010, that Rehberg's suggested solution is to join a gymnasium. Rehberg said he does advocate rewarding people for a heal thy l i f e s tyl e why shouldn't people get a tax credit for not smoking, or for working out at a health club? He asked. “Why not create incentives for a healthy lifestyle? That doesn't mean joining a gym is my only solution,” Rehberg said. He said another issue is tort reform to reduce the practicing of defensive medicine health care providers doing more than they should to avoid lawsuits. Why should a doctor order three X-rays when one is enough? He asked. “Nobody is saying you shouldn't have access to the courts we're just saying it needs to change,” Rehberg said, adding that that issue is not addressed in the health care legislation the House has passed. “I'm just pointing out one of the things that needs to be in the bill,” he said. Worries on a government solution Rehberg said one of his biggest concerns is that the government will take over health insurance, rather than letting the system be solved by the free-market system. One issue is the increasing level of bureaucracy in the government, he added. “We don't want big business, big labor and big government running health care ,” Rehberg said. “I don't want to replace the insurance companies being (the connection) between patients and doctors with the government being between patients and doctors,” he said. One audience member questioned that rationale. He said when health reform was proposed early in the administration of President Bill Clinton, the idea that private business would solve the problem seemed to kill reform. He added that, 17 years later, there are increasing problems and expenses. “I don't trust the understanding that private industry is the answer and can and will solve the problem,” he said. Finding some solution Novak, after talking about her experience with insurance and health care issues, said her main concern is that nothing will happen. She gave one example of a new employee at Mike's Thriftway, who was not yet eligible for health insurance through the company, having a problem with a pain in her eyes. When the employee called the clinic, it was too late to get in there, Novak said. The employee refused to go to the hospi tal emergency room because she couldn't afford it. Another example was with Novak's son. When he returned to the United States after serving in the Peace Corps, he was eligible to continue under the Peace Corps' COBRA coverage but no medical facility in Montana was part of that system, she said. Something needs to change, Novak said, and she is afraid that Congress will not make the changes. “I am concerned that nothing would be passed,” Novak said. “Everybody's seeing something wrong with it.” Rehberg said that he is not advocating not reforming the system, and that he thinks changes will be made. “I don't think anyone is saying it isn't broken ,” he said. “Who suggested we don't do anything? I'm not. “Something's got to be done. Something better be done or there's going to be a revolt,” he added. “I just don't think the government is the solution.”

 

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