Mandatory health insurance seen as key

An individual mandate to purchase health insurance should be front and center when President Obama opens the health care summit today, western Colorado observers said.

“If I were President Obama, I’d ask who (in Congress) would like to cover pre-existing conditions and portability,” said Dr. Mike Pramenko, a Grand Junction physician, president-elect of the Colorado Medical Society and proponent of health care reform. “If we want to do that, we have to have an individual mandate.”

Once politicians recognize that, “It raises the level of debate,” Pramenko said. “You suddenly have to deal with very hard issues.”

Club 20, the Western Slope lobbying and promotional organization, has long favored an individual mandate to purchase health insurance.

“An individual mandate is essential as a matter of personal responsibility,” Executive Director Reeves Brown said.

Thirteen percent of Colorado residents who are uninsured make $75,000 a year, while vulnerable residents go without coverage, and that lets the 13 percent “push their responsibility off on others,” Brown said.

Colorado’s two U.S. senators and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., said they hope Republicans will be tempted to join in the effort during the discussion today.

President Obama “needs to get a more transparent conversation” and reassure Americans of the advantages of his proposals, which would leave private insurance in place for 55 percent of people and add 10 years to the life of Medicare, said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

The discussion so far has become “horrendously unusable,” Bennet said. Proponents “have done a very poor job of messaging,” and opponents “have done a very effective job of scaring the American people to death,” Bennet said.

“It’s clear that everyone hates the system as it is now, but they’re deeply worried about our capacity to make it even worse,” Bennet said.

Obama’s proposal doesn’t include a public option, which Bennet has advocated. He called this month for the Senate to act on a public option using a reconciliation, a parliamentary device that would call for a vote and eliminate the need for 60 senators to close off debate.

Salazar, whose 3rd Congressional District includes most of the Western Slope, said he hoped to see the president commit to allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, a step he said could save $250 billion over 10 years.

The president will try to mediate between the sides, Salazar said, “between the party of no and the party of my way or the highway. We’ll see if there is a solution from either side.”

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Obama had adopted one Republican proposal, giving states the option of banding together to allow consumers to purchase coverage across state lines.

“I’m pleased to see the president’s proposal is paid in full,” Udall said.

The plan also aims to reduce long-term deficits and strengthen consumer protections to rein in insurance companies, Udall said.


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