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Health Reform On 50 Pages Or Less

Written by Bob Steinburg

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A Conservative's Viewpoint

The recent announcement by International Paper Corporation that it is closing its Franklin, Va., plant is having a devastating effect not only on the 1,100 workers who will eventually lose their jobs, but throughout the area. That includes the historic Albemarle region of North Carolina.

Management cites the declining demand for its products, including stationary as the primary reason for closing the venerable mill. Looking at the amount of paper being used by Congress to write its proposed health care bills, International Paper may want to reconsider.

The $894 billion 1,990 page House bill was rolled out last week. If it passes, benefits will be extended to tens of millions of individuals who currently lack coverage. Contained within these four reams of paper are new restrictions on the insurance industry as well as a government-run option to compete with private insurers.

Everyone will be required to have insurance or pay a 2.5 percent of income penalty to the government. An individual with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 choosing not to purchase health insurance would be fined $1,500. If coverage is unaffordable, (as determined by the government, not us,) hardship assistance could be available.

Employers also will risk paying huge penalties if they choose not to provide their employees with health insurance. Companies with a payroll of less than $500,000 will be exempt. Others will pay eight percent of their total payroll in penalties. An $800,000 payroll would mean a check to Uncle Sam for $64,000.

When thinking about whether to ask your congressional representative to support this bill or not, consider the following: Congressional budget experts have said that the government option won't result in any consumer savings over private plans. In fact, the government coverage will actually cost more.

The approximately 10 million seniors and the disabled who are currently covered through Medicare Advantage (MA) plans won't like some of the changes this bill has in store for them.

Also known as "Part C" of Medicare, this plan has been offering coverage since 2003 that meets or exceeds the standards originally set by Medicare. The new House bill will reduce MA payment benchmarks over a three year period that likely will result in less care for seniors. In rural areas, depending on the MA plan one is enrolled in, current providers there may soon disappear. With $400 billion in Medicare cuts over the next 10 years, seniors and the disabled have plenty of reasons for concern.

The neighborhood pharmacists can't be pleased with this legislation either. As a cost saving measure, the new government plan will use mail order facilities to fill your prescriptions instead of the pharmacist down the street you've known and trusted for years. For many, that's not a comforting thought. With almost half of the nation's population taking at least one prescription drug, these drug warehouses may soon be in charge of filling yours.

A recent Gallup survey found that 87 percent of people with private insurance and 82 percent of folks on Medicare and Medicaid say the quality of their health care is excellent or good. That presents Obama and the Democrats with their biggest dilemma in mustering up the votes necessary to pass this bill. During a roundtable discussion last week, Newsweek reported that the two pollsters who conducted a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll said that, "most Americans are convinced that covering the uninsured will require some sort of sacrifice on their behalf, and most people simply aren't prepared to give up anything to ensure that everyone has access."

That certainly does not sound very altruistic. Perhaps it has something to do with a horrible sense of timing and priorities on the part of the government. The folks at home are hurting; struggling to make ends meet just to put food on their tables and take care of their everyday expenses. Unemployment is almost 10 percent and the national debt is exploding.

The stimulus program with all of its promises of righting the fiscal ship of state has produced little in the way of visible results, furthering a lack of trust in government solutions. Most say it's done nothing to improve their lives. If you're hunkered down somewhere in eastern N. C., working (if you're lucky) two or three jobs that all pay less than the minimum wage, its hard to feel like Kris Kringle when the government reaches deeper and deeper into your pockets while whispering, "It's all for one and one for all."

Cost is a huge concern for those opposed. In spite of what the Democrats say about it not adding to the budget deficit, it's not true. In the first five years surpluses will be built by frontloading revenues. Costs won't begin until the second five years. This bill includes $700 billion in new taxes that can only create a further financial burden on those individuals and small businesses struggling to survive.

Do we really want our health care run by those that can't even produce enough swine flu vaccine to go around and has brought Medicare and Medicaid to the brink of bankruptcy? Do we really want the government controlling one-sixth of the nation's economy?

I'm all for reform that will allow those with pre-existing conditions to get insurance at comparable rates as those without. I support allowing insurance companies to cross state lines to compete everywhere, driving down premiums. I'm also behind aggressive tort reform to help contain spiraling costs. A bill simply addressing these issues to begin with could be written on less than 50 pages. While that won't do much to help out the troubled paper industry, it will produce a bipartisan bill that we can all read, understand and support.

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