Saturday, August 22, 2009
Terry and White Already Trading Shots Over Health Care
Published Aug 22, 2009
Published Saturday August 22, 2009
By Joseph Morton
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
WASHINGTON — The 2010 midterm elections are more than a year away, but Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and a likely challenger already are trading shots in the intensifying health care debate.
State Sen. Tom White of Omaha said that Terry has offered nothing more than a “glib sound bite” in response to the massive problems posed by runaway health care costs, while Terry defended his central health care proposal and said that White is attacking him without offering any concrete alternatives of his own.
Terry, in his sixth term representing Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, is holding a town hall meeting Tuesday where the dominant topic is expected to be health care.
That meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Millard North High School located at 144th and Pacific Streets. Passions on the issue of health care are clearly running high.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has seen overflow crowds at his meetings in Omaha and Lincoln, with hundreds of people stuck outside at both events.
Millard North's auditorium has a capacity of about 600, according to assistant principal Kelley Hood, and the school cafeteria is being eyed for use as overflow space.
Since January 2001, Terry has been a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a key committee with jurisdiction over health care legislation. Terry voted against the bill approved by the committee before Congress left town for its August recess.
Included in that 1,000-page bill is a new government health insurance plan, or public option.
During committee debate, Terry offered an amendment that would eliminate the public option and instead allow uninsured individuals to join the program used by members of Congress and federal employees. That program includes a choice of many different insurance plans.
Those joining the federal benefits program under Terry's plan would be responsible for their full premiums, although some government subsidies would be provided on a sliding-scale basis.
Terry has said that a basic family plan would be available for premiums of about $500 a month. Various high deductible family plans included in the program are available for under $600 a month, but other plans are more expensive. Many of those cost $1,000 a month or more in premiums.
Terry's amendment was defeated.
White, a Democrat, is expected to challenge Terry in next year's election. He said he still is gauging support but has established a campaign committee and started raising money.
White said that he would have cast the same vote as Terry against the Energy and Commerce Committee bill. He said its public option did not come with adequate protection for the private insurance industry.
White said he's open to a public option, but only if it includes protections to ensure government does not have unfair access to capital and that the private sector has the same ability to negotiate prices on services as the government.
But while he agreed with Terry's vote, White said that the alternative offered by the congressman is simply a page-and-a-half amendment, not a comprehensive proposal.
White said that Terry's proposal would induce many profoundly sick people to enter the federal program, causing premiums within the program to increase greatly. He also said that Terry's plan would do nothing to control costs.
“It is clearly poll tested and very popular, but it won't help people who don't have insurance,” White said of Terry's plan. “Most importantly, it won't help any of the struggling middle class who are trying to hang onto insurance, and it sure could screw up both private group insurance and the federal employee group insurance.”
Terry disputed that primarily sick people would take advantage of his proposal, saying that many of the country's uninsured are actually healthy young people who simply can't afford insurance.
He said his plan would foster competition and that the federal program has seen relatively low cost increases compared to others. He also said that his proposal's simplicity is a virtue.
“It is a simple plan, but a plan nonetheless to allow the uninsured access to affordable health insurance. I thought that's what this health debate was about,” Terry said.
White said that while he doesn't have a specific alternative proposal, he is committed to fighting for general principles such as controlling costs and improving competition.
Ways to control costs include cutting down on duplicative tests and improved record-keeping, White said.
Terry said that he shares the same principle of controlling costs and that White needs to offer up a more detailed proposal.
“Come up with your plan. Let's compare apples with apples,” Terry said. “If you don't have the guts to do it, then don't criticize mine.”
White said Terry's the one who has been serving on the Energy and Commerce Committee for years.
“One of the things I don't think is responsible is to give people a neat, pretend answer when it won't work,” White said. “We're talking people who are desperate, people who are dying, or watching loved ones dying for lack of care, and glib sound bite answers are nothing but cruel.”
at 12:54 PM