Health care debate regains center stage

Herrera Beutler supports GOP repeal push

By Howard Buck, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: January 18, 2011, 7:25 PM

 

From one Washington to the other, the great debate of 2009-10 smoldered again on Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, clearly aligned with Republican efforts to repeal historic health care reforms adopted by Congress last year, spoke even as defenders of the controversial law voiced sentiments in Vancouver.

“I rise in support of this bill, and I hope this is only a first step in the pursuit of making quality, affordable care available to all Americans,” Herrera Beutler said, making her initial speech on the U.S. House floor.

“Getting this right is one of the reasons the people of Southwest Washington sent me to Congress,” she said.

The freshman member’s one-minute speech in favor of the 2010 legislation-repealing House Bill 2, set for a vote today, came shortly before 2 p.m. Pacific time.

Herrera Beutler said the reform package pressed by Democrats stands to drive up federal debt while “doing nothing to decrease the inflationary curve” of health care.

She said “no party’s perfect,” a nod to ineffective GOP reform efforts during her stint as a congressional aide when Republicans ruled Capitol Hill.

Now is a time for solutions, she said, and listed alternatives.

“Today we hit ‘reset’ on health care reform, and we should work to advance solutions like Small Business Health Plans, junk lawsuit reform, the expanded use of Health Savings Accounts, and the ability to purchase health care across state lines,” she said as her allotted floor time ended.

Anti-repeal voice

Meanwhile, backers of reforms signed into law by President Barack Obama last year stood their ground.

Hours before Herrera Beutler’s speech, a pair of Vancouver small-business owners voiced strong opposition to the GOP’s repeal effort.

They said an attempt to strike the 2010 Affordable Care Act is misguided, would hurt companies and individuals that stand to benefit from its reforms, and would add to the nation’s deficit.

Nine more local residents lent support to a brief media event staged downtown by the Washington state arm of the Democratic Party-backed Organizing for America grass-roots group.

“The act is probably one of the best things to happen in my career,” said Don Orange, 57, owner of the Hoesly Eco Automotive service shop in downtown Vancouver. It lets him give employees better health care coverage without breaking the bank and will prevent soaring medical bills from devastating his customer base, he said.

“It’s the best thing government has done for me in 30 years,” Orange said. “This is one thing that was excellent for smaller businesses; I don’t believe it was great for big business,” he added.

“Small-business people tend to be (fiscally) conservative,” he said. It would be “just stupid” to repeal the legislation and risk swelling the federal deficit, he said. “This is a good bill, it just needs some work.”

In contrast, Orange said a fruitless repeal effort wastes time that Congress should instead spend on job creation.

“Twice as many homes in Clark County are being foreclosed as being built,” he said. “(Congress) should get to work on the things that are going to matter. There’s more pressing issues out there.”

Repeal ‘nonproductive’

Lonnie Chandler, 50, owner of the Java House coffee shop and Vintage Distributing wine business in Vancouver, said repeal would only preserve an “unsustainable” health care system.

Since he began offering his workers health insurance 17 years ago, Chandler said he’s seen monthly premiums rise from $79 to $1,200 last year, and co-pay charges rise from $5 up to $250 in some cases.

The 2010 reform package is “better for business, and it’s better for the community,” he said. “To step back in time would be totally nonproductive. (Republicans) want to go back to the starting line, which was not a good place to begin with,” he said. “We just need to go forward.”

Chandler learned the hard way the pitfalls of his own health insurance, he said.

When he suffered a major stroke in 2009, he wound up paying $16,000 out of pocket, he said. That entailed just four hours in a local hospital, several costly exams and a diagnosis that took three months to pin down, he said.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Chandler said, to confront “so many limits, so many minimums and maximums” that ran up his bill. “We found out the holes of our coverage.”

Whose gain?

The leader of the Vancouver event said Herrera Beutler and the GOP wish to score political points at insurance companies’ behest, at the expense of her own constituents.

Republicans are “spending time refighting political wars of the last two years,” said Dustin Lambro, an Organizing for America state director.

Lambro recited Democratic Party-supplied statistics that maintain thousands of 3rd Congressional District residents would lose out should the reforms be repealed: Senior citizens affected by a Medicare drug coverage “donut hole,” families due to receive new tax credits, residents with pre-existing medical conditions denied coverage, young adults unable to remain on parents’ health plans.

He said reforms will protect Americans from insurers’ “fine print and legal tricks,” and would slice the national debt by $230 billion over the next 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

“Now, members in Congress want to repeal the law that holds insurance companies accountable,” Lambro said.

Gregoire: Needless ‘fear’

Also on Tuesday, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, joined a teleconference call with Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, to emphasize benefits of the current reforms.

“We can’t go back to the broken past … (and continue) all the worst practices of the insurance industry,” Sebelius said.

Gregoire said, “Repealing, or even considering repeal of the act, will have a real effect right now in Washington.”

Asked to elaborate, Gregoire said many senior citizens may fear that critical drug benefits and other medical coverages are threatened — even though repeal is near certain to be blocked by U.S. Senate Democrats or Obama, she noted.

“We’re putting fear at their doorstep when there’s no need to do so,” Gregoire said.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or howard.buck@columbian.com.