Health care debate comes to Cape today

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

As the health care debate continues in Washington, D.C., Cape Girardeau will get some perspective from two former politicians.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and governor of Vermont, will discuss health care issues at 7:30 p.m. today in the Show Me Center.

Erik Peterson, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will moderate the debate. Dean, a medical doctor who published a book this year on the topic, shared the stage with Karl Rove, a former Bush administration official, at Penn State University on Tuesday.

After a plan including a public option was unveiled Monday, some senators tried to nail down support from moderate colleagues Tuesday. Both chambers of Congress are reconciling committee versions of health care reform legislation. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Sen. Kit Bond and Sen. Claire McCaskill have not voted on the health care measures in committee.

Emerson, a Republican, said she is not convinced a government-run public option is necessary, though she expects the House version of the bill to include one.

"They're trying to reinvent things as opposed to streamlining them," she said.

She said she wants to focus efforts on prescription drug reform by allowing importation. Emerson also said she would also support a national insurance exchange to increase competition among insurance companies.

She said she has not seen the bill but does not agree with how the legislation has been drafted. Representatives who crafted the bill negotiated with drug companies, the American Medical Association and hospitals, she said.

"They did not sit down with colleagues who had expertise in the health care arena, and that makes me very frustrated," she said.

Bond, a Republican, expressed similar frustration with the Democratic leadership Monday.

"While the final details of the Democrats' bill are still hidden, this much is known: It will be a vast expansion of government impacting the health care of every American detailed in a complicated, thousand-page bill written behind closed doors that will cost a trillion dollars, increase health care costs, raise taxes and cut Medicare benefits for seniors," Bond said Monday. "That is not the kind of reform Missourians want."

President Barack Obama has set a spending limit of roughly $900 billion over a decade for the legislation.

Bond has been focusing his efforts on medical malpractice reform and increasing funding to community health centers, reforms that could make a quicker change, said Bond spokeswoman Shana Marchio.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill could support a small-scale public option but will base her decision on a financial analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, said McCaskill spokeswoman Maria Speiser.

"She doesn't want to vote for any health care legislation that will add a dime to our national debt," she said. A small-scale public option would cover people who are currently uninsured and trying to buy coverage on the open market. It would not replace the current system of employer-provided coverage, Speiser said.

She said two Senate versions of the bill will be combined in the next couple of weeks and McCaskill will analyze the final package.

"I think Sen. McCaskill is cautiously optimistic about being able to pass legislation this year," Speiser said.

According to a report released last week by the Department of Health and Human Services, more employers are struggling to provide health care to their workers. In Missouri, the percentage of people with employer-based coverage went from 77.3 percent of the population in 2001 to 68.4 percent of the population in 2008. In 2008, 451,000 Missouri workers did not have health insurance.

Adam Seehaver, spokesman for the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, said he is encouraged by the recent direction of the debate. He said the group supports a more extensive version of the public option.

"To some extent the rumors of the death of the public option were greatly exaggerated," he said.

He said more conservatives should consider the government-run option. A public option that allows states to opt out, will extend more options to more people, he said.

Carl Bearden, director of the Missouri chapter for Americans for Prosperity, said any version of a public option would grow and shut out private insurers. He said states would only opt into a public option secure their share of tax money.

"It's just a game," he said. "It's not a true public policy."

Admission for tonight's debate is free for students, faculty and staff with university identification. The event costs $8 for community members. Tickets are available at the Show Me Center ticket office, Ticketmaster outlets, 651-5000 or ShowMeCenter.biz.

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

One University Plaza Cape Girardeau, MO

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