Criticism of Begich vote misses mark

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tony Yorba's Empire column against the health reform bill and Sen. Mark Begich deserves a response. As a longtime Juneau resident and the senator's lead staffer on the issue, allow me.

Tony needs to check his facts. If he would review the bill, he'd discover that his "three very simple market based measures" actually are in it.

Insurance sold across state lines to increase competition? It's allowed in both the Senate and House versions. The Senate also sets up national insurance plans, at least two in each state, to be offered by private insurers with benefits and terms negotiated by the federal government and very similar to what members of Congress receive.

Tort reform? The bill encourages more innovation by states to limit medical malpractice claims, building on a project started by President Obama. But whether this will make a difference is far from certain. Alaska passed tort reform in 1997 and further restricted damage awards in 2005. Yet since 1997, health insurance premiums for Alaskans have more than doubled.

Consumer incentives to shop and save? Lots of the bill is built on this idea. The new insurance marketplaces will make shopping and comparison much easier. The proposed tax on expensive insurance policies, while controversial and questioned by my boss, is designed to make people more informed consumers and drive down costs.

Yorba says that Congress has no idea where the billions in proposed Medicare savings will come from. One example is from Medicare Advantage, which allows private insurers to offer Medicare plans.

It started years ago because insurance companies said they could deliver Medicare for 95 cents on the dollar. Today it costs $1.14 compared to regular Medicare. The bill cuts those overpayments and saves $120 billion.

Another example: Drug companies agreed to cut Medicare $80 billion by reducing the cost of brand-name prescriptions for seniors.

Tony also suggests that early morning and late-night votes were some sort of Democratic conspiracy. Is he kidding? Republican delay tactics torpedoed all efforts to pass the bill in a timely manner. This included wasting time by insisting that Senate clerks read a 700-page amendment out loud when virtually no one was in the chamber.

I agree with Tony that health reform is complicated and far from perfect. I hope he'll agree with me that commentary on the subject should be based on facts. Let's have an informed discussion, not one based on innuendo.

Bruce Scandling

Legislative assistant

Office of Sen. Mark Begich,

D-Alaska



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