Lawmakers taking aim at health care reform

The Beacon News reports:

“Newly installed Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives plan to make good this week on their vow to roll back the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the package of health reforms passed by Congress and signed by President Obama less than a year ago. Among them is incoming District 14 U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, one of 47 freshman GOP lawmakers heading to Washington this week. Hultgren last year put his signature on the Contract from America, which pledges to “defund, repeal, and replace the recently passed government-run health care.”

Hultgren spokesman Gill Stevens confirmed Thursday that the congressman’s stance has not changed.

“Congressman Hultgren plans to vote for the ‘Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act,’” Stevens said in an e-mail to The Sun. “He looks forward to supporting legislation that will deliver real health care reform for Americans by increasing competition and cutting costs.”

Hultgren’s District 13 colleague, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale, also has been critical of the health industry overhaul. She supported the Pledge to America, a conservative governing agenda unveiled by House Republicans in September.

While it promises to strengthen prohibitions on federal funding of abortion, supporters of the health reform act assert that the pledge is short on details and offers few new ideas.

“We will enact real medical liability reform; allow Americans to purchase health coverage across state lines; empower small businesses with greater purchasing power; and create new incentives to save for future health needs. We will protect the doctor-patient relationship, and ensure that those with pre-existing conditions gain access to the coverage they need,” the repeal portion of the pledge reads.

In the nation’s capital this week to begin her seventh term in Congress, Biggert could not be reached directly. But Zach Cikanek, her press secretary, said she plans to support the repeal effort and campaigned accordingly.

“She’s talked about the alternatives she supports and her objections to the bill over many months,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius called the repeal effort “a huge step backwards” and said the act already has granted Americans freedoms they did not enjoy before it was passed, including coverage for pre-existing conditions, a reduction in employers’ expenses and reduced prescription costs for seniors.

“Those are goals we’ve been talking about for years, and we’re finally making some progress,” Sebelius said in a call with reporters this week. “We can’t afford to take benefits away from families.”

In figures released Thursday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that while the act is projected to pare the national deficit by $143 billion over the next two decades, its repeal would add another $230 billion to the shortfall. Analysts also say the anticipated decrease in premiums would bring coverage cutbacks, and for many people the lower fees would be offset by the repeal’s removal of subsidies that come with the bill. The proposed rollback also would add 32 million more Americans to the ranks of the uninsured, the CBO said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which recently sent a representative to discuss legislative issues with local business people, has come out against the act, alleging it will place unreasonable financial burden on business owners. Its Naperville arm, however, has no official stance on the issue.

“At this point we don’t have any formal position taken yet,” said Patrick Skarr, vice president of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and head of its political action committee.

The Naperville-based Illinois Hospital Association has been a supporter of health reforms from the beginning, but like most others, sees room for improvement in the existing act.

Association president Maryjane Wurth said it’s encouraging that there has been progress toward insurance reform and universal coverage.

“I think it’s widely recognized by both parties that the health spending trajectory is something that we can’t sustain in this country,” Wurth said. “We needed to do some rational and purposeful reforms of the delivery system.”

She said the reforms don’t really go far enough, and the act’s shortcomings include anticipated cuts in Medicare payments that could reduce Illinois’ receipts by $8 billion.

She also noted that government-run health care is not a novel concept.

“Medicare is a government program, and that is one thing that most people who are beneficiaries want very much to keep,” Wurth said.

Other provisions in the act are similarly desirable, she said, among them rebates, tax incentives, expanded coverage for young-adult children, appeal procedures and coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“Those are all valuable provisions of the bill that can’t be lost as we’re looking at the idea of too much government,” Wurth said.”

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