Congressman says he’ll cast ‘aye’ vote on bill

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., will support a health care measure that he described as “probably the single largest deficit-reduction measure I will probably ever vote on.”

The measure, to be voted on finally by the House on Sunday, doesn’t include a provision Salazar listed as a high priority — allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices with drug companies — but it does include a 10 percent increase in Medicare reimbursement to rural physicians and primary-care providers.

Salazar on Thursday cast one of 222 votes that set the stage for the House to vote to deem the measure passed.

All House Republicans voted against the measure, and critics pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office estimates cited by bill supporters were preliminary.

In crafting the measure now before Congress, “I think the president took the Grand Junction model to heart and this is the closest we’ll get to it, at least right now,” Salazar said in a telephone interview with The Daily Sentinel on Thursday.

The measure will reduce by $89 million the $159 million lost in uncompensated costs by hospitals in the 3rd Congressional District, Salazar said. The district includes most of the Western Slope and much of southern Colorado.

Salazar said the measure also would improve coverage for 362,000 residents in the largely rural district, and extend coverage to 105,500 uninsured residents, including 57,000 young adults who can remain on their parents’ insurance through age 26, instead of being bumped off the policies at age 23.

Provisions in the Senate measure intended to benefit Nebraska and Louisiana will have to removed in order for the House on Sunday to approve the reconciled Senate bill, Salazar said.

The vote on Thursday was to approve the Senate bill “provided it had those reforms,” he said.

Though Senate Republicans said they might be able to derail all or part of the measure in that house, Salazar said he was confident Senate Democrats could push through a measure acceptable to the House Democrats.

The pending vote marks the end of a process that began soon after President Obama took office in 2009 and included a visit to Central High School in Grand Junction last summer billed as a health care town-hall meeting with the president, Salazar and others.

The 10-year plan is intended to cover 32 million people who are now uninsured. The coverage would be provided through a combination of tax credits for middle-class households and an expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income people. The plan would restructure 17 percent, or one-sixth of the nation’s economy, and affect 95 percent of eligible Americans. By 2014, most Americans would be required to carry health insurance under what is known as an individual mandate.

The individual mandate is supported by Club 20, the Western Slope lobbying and promotional organization.

Both of Salazar’s potential Republican opponents blasted his support of the measure.

Cortez Republican Scott Tipton said he would do anything in his power to repeal the measure if he is elected.

“I think it’s unacceptable to vote for a bill before you know what it says,” Tipton said, referring to the parliamentary maneuvers employed in both houses.

Bob McConnell, a Steamboat Springs Republican, said House Democrats were arrogant and that “On Nov. 2, the trumpet will sound and the people will cry our with their votes and the wall of arrogance will come tumbling down.”

Dr. Michael Pramenko, a Grand Junction physician who has supported restructuring the health care system, said he was pleased to see the measure moving forward with Salazar’s support.

“I think (Salazar) recognizes that there are very few ways to get pre-existing conditions covered” except through an individual mandate, Pramenko said.

Increasing the reimbursement rate for rural physicians also is a step forward, as is a provision to increase funding for Medicaid programs administered by states, Pramenko said.

Salazar said he hoped to continue the effort to allow the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The measure is a step forward, Pramenko said.

“It’s not a perfect bill by far,” he said. “It’s a work in program, but at least we’ve gone from a road with a cliff at the end of it to a road that’s not paved but at least has a destination.”


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