Reps weigh in on health care debate

Jan 11, 2011
Two area congressmen weighed in on the renewed debate sparked by the Republican majority’s attempt to repeal the landmark health care reform law favored by President Barack Obama and his allies.

In an interview, U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., restated his opposition to the health care measure, which was given final approval by the Senate on Christmas Eve 2009.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., reiterated his support for the law.

Jones and Butterfield represent Beaufort County in Congress, their districts divided roughly by the Pamlico River and Market Street in Washington.

“I am for health care reform ... but not a massive takeover by the federal government,” Jones told the Washington Daily News in a telephone interview.

“It just is not what a majority of the American people want,” he continued. “The majority of the American people want true health care reform.”

In a Gallup poll conducted Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, pollsters found that 46 percent of Americans wanted their congressional representative to vote to repeal the health care law, 40 percent wanted to let the law remain in place and 14 percent had no opinion.

The poll engaged a random sample of 1,025 people and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, according to Gallup’s website.

In a written statement released to the Daily News, Butterfield predicted consequences for citizens and businesses if the law is repealed.

“Unfortunately, if Republicans in Congress get their way, health insurance companies will again be able to drop your coverage just because you get sick and deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions,” Butterfield said. “This would also mean costs would rise for seniors, and small businesses would lose tax credits for offering coverage to their workers and seniors would lose help paying for their prescriptions.”

Jones was not able to take part in a procedural vote last week when the House began taking up a bill to repeal and replace the reform law. He was out of town for personal reasons when the vote came up.

He indicated he would have voted to move the repeal process forward, had he been in the capital.

Jones also pointed out the fact that he doesn’t serve on any “committees of jurisdiction” that would deal with the substance of new health care legislation.

He stated his conviction that, in the event the law is repealed, a future bill should focus on affordability and accessibility of care and protect people with pre-existing conditions.

“That has to be part of any (bill),” he said, adding that his constituents have identified these priorities in numerous meetings.

“My position has been very consistent, very consistent, and I base that on listening to the people I represent,” Jones remarked.

Jones forecast House committees under GOP leadership will come forward with a replacement bill, but also referred to the widely-held view that the Democratic-controlled Senate won’t take up the repeal initiative.

Speaking of last week’s House vote, he said, “This is symbolic, I will say that, but it’s important symbolism, but I think it shows the American people that we heard them.”

Butterfield highlighted one major intention of the law — to reduce the federal deficit over time by bringing health care costs under control.

“If Republicans succeed in repealing the law, this will balloon the federal deficit and shorten the life of the Medicare trust fund by twelve years,” he said. “According to the Congressional Budget Office, the health reform law will reduce the deficit by over $100 billion over the next ten years and by $1.2 trillion over the second decade. It will also reduce the solvency of the Medicare trust fund from 2029 to 2017.”

Opponents of the law have cited earlier Congressional Budget Office reports that the law would cost $1 trillion over 10 years.

In May 2010, The Washington Post reported the law could add a minimum of $115 billion to federal health-care expenditures over the next decade.

“That would push the 10-year cost of the overhaul above $1 trillion — an unofficial limit the Obama administration set early on,” the Post reported.

The Post also reported these costs were not included in earlier estimates by the CBO.

The White House contends the law scales back deficit spending over time, and this is reflected in Butterfield’s statement.

In his statement, Butterfield said repealing the act “would eliminate the ban on discrimination by health insurers based on pre-existing conditions” and “let health insurance companies rescind coverage when a policyholder gets sick.”

Repeal would also “eliminate tax credits for small businesses and American families,” Butterfield asserted.  

“The Affordable Care Act makes up to four million small businesses eligible for tax credits for up to 35% of the cost of providing health insurance,” he said. “In addition, when fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act will give middle-class families the largest tax cut for health care in history, providing tax credits for families with incomes up to $88,000 for a family of four.”

For his part, Jones said the bill that led to the law should have been more thoroughly debated and taken on piece by piece over time.

“The point is this thing appeared to be crammed through and that’s what really, really angered many people,” he said.