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Constituents Question Health Reform Bill

By Staff | Aug 11, 2009

Discussion about the health reform bill was met with resistance at a recent informational meeting held July 28, at Willow Ridge in Emmetsburg. Nathan Vander Plaats, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin’s regional director, shared details of the health reform plan and fielded questions from the crowd.

Vander Plaats described the process for considering the bill.

“The Health Committee has passed their bill on to committee,” said Vander Plaats. “The Finance Committee is what we have to wait on in the Senate at this point. We’re not sure when they’re going to be able to release the bill. They need to have a workable bill.”

Once the Finance Committee passes their bill, both bills will be merged and will then be considered on the floor of the Senate. The same will happen in the House. If both are approved, they will go to Conference Committee to iron out any differences, then will return to each house for passage.

“We’re hoping we can have this done by October. A lot of this depends on how quickly the Finance Committee can act,” Vander Plaats added. “It’s an ambitious schedule, but one Senator Harkin thinks we can meet.”

Vander Plaats opened the floor to questions and concerns. One constituent asked why the bill was being rushed through.

“The longer we wait on this, the more money it’s going to cost the nation,” said Vander Plaats. “It’s not something that we’re pushing through immediately. We’ve had the Senate health bill out for public review for months. The discussion has been on-going for decades.”

Another questioned whether Sen. Harkin had even read the bill.

“Senator Harkin helped write the bill [600-page Senate health bill],” Vander Plaats answered.

Harkin chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s Prevention and Public Health Working Group given the duty of crafting the prevention and public health components of the health reform bill.

One individual wondered about how high taxes would be raised to pay for government-run health care.

“The president has said that he will not raise taxes on anyone who makes under $350,000 a year,” Vander Plaats stated. “We have to find the money in some way; it has to be in the budget, which means you have to cut out some where. We’ve had the pharmaceutical industry already agree to take some cuts from Medicare to chip in more to help reduce our costs over-all. There’s been talk of a sugar tax, as well.”

Another question concerned employers dropping their insurance coverage once a government-run plan is in place.

“I’m not sure if this has made it into the bill, but they have talked about a provision that an employer cannot just drop their coverage,” said Vander Plaats. “If an employer would have a justifiable reason to cancel that coverage, they might be allowed to do it, but not just because it’s there. There has also been talk of increased tax benefits for small companies that continue to offer health coverage.”

Vander Plaats also addressed a number of other questions:

• It’s a myth that members of Congress are exempting themselves from the bill. “Everyone is exempt,” Vander Plaats said. “Nobody has to join the public health plan. If they want to keep their current health care, they can.”

• There is no truth to a wage-cap, in the Senate bill, on what doctors can earn.

• Illegal immigrants are not eligible for the government health plan. “Nobody who is in the country illegally is eligible for anything,” noted Vander Plaats.