Having a healthy discussion

Published 1:16 am Wednesday, September 2, 2009

If other U.S. congressmen have gotten the messages that he has during the August recess, then no currently proposed version of a health care bill will pass, U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) told members of the Andalusia Regional Hospital board of directors, administrators, and medical staff Tuesday.

But Bright said he expects some version of a health care bill will be on a fast track in the U.S. House of Representatives when Congress reconvenes next week.

“I will be voting ‘no’ on what I have seen so far,” Bright said. “The rest of the story is we’ve got to do something about health care cost containment.”

At present, there are three proposed health care bills that have come out of committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, and two Senate versions, one of which has been approved in committee. Any version would have to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the president to become law.

Turning to options for containing costs, Bright first suggested changing current insurance laws.

“Now, if you live in Alabama, you must buy (health) insurance from an Alabama company,” he said. “If you removed the state line bounding, you might be able to get the same or better coverage at a better price.”

Competition creates a better product, and usually a less expensive one, he said.

He also said litigation reform will pay an important role, and that there may be a place for health care exchanges or bundling health care services.

Bright said a veteran doctor in Luverne told him last week, “We’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. Eight-five percent of the people have health coverage and 95 percent of those are happy with what they have.

“The thing that ought to concern us is the 15 percent who don’t have coverage.”

Dr. Joann Smith said she fears that expanding a government-funded insurance program would make a problem she already sees get worse.

“I have people who get signed up for Medicare, then rush into my office and say ‘I want this test and this test and that one, and my back has been hurting for 10 years,’” Smith said.

Bright agreed and said that if universal coverage were issued tomorrow, there aren’t enough facilities in the United States, nor enough medical personnel, to provide care to all Americans.

In that regard, he said, there are some good things in the proposed health care bill, like incentives for those studying to become primary care physicians or nurses.

“If I could prove to you the bill was good and it was good for Alabama, the majority would be against it because of the rumors and innuendoes associated with it,” he said. “Party politics can do that for you.”

Another positive in the 1,000-plus pages of H.R. 3200, he said, is that it addresses parity in Medicaid reimbursement. At present, a hospital in an urban area receives Medicaid payments at a higher reimbursement percentage than one in a rural area, like ARH.

“That’s addressed and taken care of in H.R. 3200,” Bright said. “But H.R. 3200 will not pass in its present form.”

The first-term representative said while he opposes the health bills currently proposed, he believes that something must be done to contain health care costs and help stabilize the economy on a long-term basis.

“We’ve got to quit creating fear, put party labels outside the door and come up with a solution,” he said.

Bright, who made his comments after touring ARH, said, “This is a fine facility and you are fortunate to have it.”

Bright said he would be visiting Afghanistan with the Armed Forces Committee this weekend before returning to Washington next week.