Salazar: Health bill will aid middle class

All Americans will benefit from health measure, congressman says

The insurance issued by the public-option health-insurance provider envisioned in the U.S. House bill that is due for a vote soon will look somewhat familiar to Grand Valley residents, said U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo.

The public option will provide health coverage much like what is offered at Marillac Clinic in Grand Junction, Salazar said in an interview with The Daily Sentinel.

“I think the Grand Junction or Mesa County system has been used to some extent” as a model for the health-care changes contained in the measure being debated in the House, Salazar said.

In discussions with constituents in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes most of the Western Slope and southern Colorado, most told him that change “has to be some kind of health-care reform that helps the middle class. That’s exactly what we’re hoping to do with this.”

Salazar never distanced himself from the public option, he said, but used his position within the 55-member Blue Dog Coalition to accomplish reform that would help rural America.

Among those goals were the establishment of a health-insurance exchange, allowing the federal government to negotiate with drugmakers and getting control of the health-insurance industry by eliminating such things as denials or rejections of coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

“The beauty of this thing is that we’ve created a system in which every American is qualified to get the same health-care plan that members of Congress get,” he said.

The public-option government health-insurance plan will attract only about 2 percent of buyers, he said, citing Congressional Budget Office findings.

Not everyone will be able to purchase coverage from the public plan because it will be limited to people with incomes 400 percent of the poverty level or less, he said.

The public-option plan will be part of the insurance exchange and will have to negotiate with health-care providers on its rates. That represents a major victory for rural America, which gets the short end of the stick when Medicare sets rates, he said.

“We held out for that one,” he said of the Blue Dogs. “I’m excited about that piece. Hospitals around the district are barely making it.”

Private insurance companies won’t be threatened by the public option, he said.

“Insurance companies are making a lot of money,” he said. “You compete by the quality of care you offer.”

The public option will be a basic health care policy that will take care of cancer, he said, “not face-lifts.”

Medicare and private insurance have gone astray, he said, citing coverage that provides motorized wheelchairs and treatments for erectile dysfunction. Why taxpayers fund Viagra prescriptions is the “stupidest, silliest thing,” he said.

That Congress has been lax in monitoring health care is demonstrated by sales of motorized wheelchairs that are advertised as being funded by Medicare, he said.

Insurance companies are making “big-time bucks” on such programs, he said. “It’s one thing to provide basic health care Americans need, and it’s another thing to go over top,” he said.

Concerns that federal money will be used to fund abortions are misplaced, Salazar said. Safeguards are built into the bill to prevent exactly that, he said.

“It’s very clear” that no funding from the public plan will be used to pay for abortions, he said, “I wish people would quit making up these myths.”

His staff has gone through the House bill, and he has read the specific sections in which he has the greatest concerns, Salazar said. The measure will reduce the deficit, he said, if Congress doesn’t cave to special interests looking for loopholes.

The 2004 Medicare prescription bill became a cash cow for drug companies, but the provision in the House bill allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies will save $159 billion over 10 years, he said.

Had the Blue Dog Coalition not taken the position it did, the legislative process would have moved far more quickly, and the bill would have passed in August, he said.


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