Pomeroy plans to vote for health care reform legislationHours before the U.S. House was scheduled to hold its historic and wildly contentious vote on health care reform Sunday, Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., announced that he would vote for the legislation because it “will literally be a lifesaver for North Dakotans.”
By: By Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Hours before the U.S. House was scheduled to hold its historic and wildly contentious vote on health care reform Sunday, Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., announced that he would vote for the legislation because it “will literally be a lifesaver for North Dakotans.”
Joined by the state’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, Pomeroy said the bill would strengthen consumer protections and Medicare benefits for senior citizens, ensure that North Dakota hospitals are treated fairly under Medicare reimbursement payments, cut the cost of health care for middle-class families and small businesses, and significantly reduce the federal deficit.
Pomeroy said the bill would “protect consumers from abusive practices that have been a perennial part of the insurance marketplace” and make health insurance more affordable than any other proposal he’s seen.
“It is not a government takeover of health care,” Dorgan said, addressing one of the most persistent challenges offered by opponents of the bill, who in recent days flooded congressional offices with protest calls and staged raucous demonstrations at the Capitol.
The three lawmakers acknowledged that the bill “isn’t perfect,” in Pomeroy’s words, but they emphasized that the legislation has strong support from doctors, nurses, hospitals and other health care providers, and they said it contains nothing authorizing any direct or indirect federal funding for abortion.
Pomeroy said that several Catholic nuns came to his office this week to express support for the bill and affirm that it is “for life.”
Republicans were quick to respond.
“To say this is a flawed bill is an understatement of epic proportions,” Tom Erickson, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in an email Sunday. “Hidden within its pages are massive cuts to Medicare, hundreds of billions of dollars in tax increases and infamous backroom deals.
“By supporting a massive government takeover of health care that will cause insurance premiums to rise, Earl Pomeroy has all but guaranteed that his current term in Congress will be his last.”
Pomeroy said he is “disappointed over the sharply partisan divide over its passage,” but “if we walk away now, Congress will not return to it for many, many years,” leading to higher premiums, higher costs, more uninsured and more red ink in the federal budget.
Pomeroy is seeking a 10th term this fall and will face Republican Rick Berg of Fargo, nominated by his party Saturday and already signaling that the health care reform issue will be a key part of his campaign.
Asked about the politics of Sunday’s vote, Pomeroy said, “The months to come will sort this out,” and that he would press the message that “this is going to make things better for North Dakotans.”
Dorgan announced earlier this year that he would not seek another term in the Senate, Republicans nominated Gov. John Hoeven Saturday to seek the seat. Democrats will nominate a candidate at their state convention in Fargo this weekend.
The delegation members said they are supporting the reform legislation because it would bar insurance companies from denying or dropping coverage based on pre-existing conditions, health status and gender. They said that would help 8,200 North Dakotans with pre-existing conditions get coverage, citing numbers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bill “corrects a decades-old injustice that shortchanges North Dakota hospitals and doctors on Medicare reimbursements,” bringing about $650 million in revenue into the state over the next decade. That would allow the state’s hospitals and clinics to hire more staff and expand and improve care, the lawmakers said, noting the North Dakota Hospital Association has called the bill “a historic step forward for health care in North Dakota.”
The bill eliminates the Medicare “doughnut hole” — the gap in prescription drug coverage that puts the cost on seniors and discourages them from continuing to take the medication they need, according to the delegation. It also provides new services and eliminates out-of-pocket copayments for preventive benefits for the 106,000 North Dakotans who depend on Medicare.
“The most important issue for North Dakota is this legislation will finally correct a longstanding injustice,” Dorgan said, “not just for our state but for others where Medicare (reimbursement) payments are far below what they should be.”
In a prepared statement distributed by e - mail prior to the half-hour teleconference, the members of the delegation said the bill would provide an immediate 35 percent tax credit to small businesses offering health coverage to employees. When the new insurance exchange is set up, employers who purchase coverage receive a two-year tax credit of up to 50 percent of the their costs to offer insurance.
In addition, they said, the bill provides middle class families (incomes up to $88,000 for a family of four) with tax credits to help pay for coverage in the exchange. For a family of four making $50,000, the average tax credit will be approximately $5,800, they said, citing numbers from the House Ways and Means Committee.
Conrad said one of the most important factors in his decision to support the legislation is the Congressional Budget Office assessment that it will reduce the deficit by $143 billion in the first ten years after it is enacted and by $1.2 trillion in the second 10 years.
Chuck Haga is a writer at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald which is owned by Forum Communications Co.