I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Heinrich voices support of public option in health care ‘town hall’
Rep. Martin Heinrich told constituents on a telephone “town hall” last night that he intended to be out and about in his district during Congress’ upcoming recess to take the constituents’ pulse on health care reform.
The town hall came on the heels of criticism directed at Heinrich this week by local media for his unwillingness to release statistics about constituent calls on health care reform. Up for re-election next year, he’s also been the subject of attack ads by conservatives in recent days on the topic of health care and can expect more to come during the recess.
According to Heinrich’s staff, who fielded questions, 5,250 callers were on the call last night, which was advertised in local media outlets.
The questions asked of Heinrich reflected the concerns many New Mexicans have about health care and health care reform.
Brian Sanderoff , owner of Research and Polling, Inc., told the Independent before the town hall that most New Mexicans think the high rate of uninsured people is unacceptable and that health care reform is necessary. At the same time, he said, they also tend to like their own doctors and are leery of changes that might affect the quality of their own health care.
“The politicians have figured out they have to be really careful,” Sanderoff said. “From a public policy perspective people think the system should be reformed, but they also like their doctor.”
“More than 20 percent of New Mexicans and Americans are without health care insurance, and most think that is unacceptable. The tricky political issue becomes that around 75 percent do have health care insurance, and sometimes in the realm of politics they could become concerned or scared that the quality of their health care will diminish.”
Of the 16 questions asked last night, seven were on the topic of the so-called public option–how it would affect people’s pocketbooks or their current health care plans, or how it differs from Medicare.
Heinrich answered all the questions with an eye on full support for the public option, during which he explained several times a key distinction that he felt was not understood accurately: that the public option was not a government funded plan. Rather, it’s a plan administered by the government but paid for by those people and employers who choose to purchase it, just like private insurance plans.
“The current proposal builds on what we already have and what already works,” he explained to a caller who asked the difference between the public option and government health care. “It’s different from Medicare — which is funded by government. It would be funded by the premiums paid into it by the participants.”
Heinrich also seemed to indicate, in reply to concerns of a small business owner, that he supported a compromise this week in the House to exempt employers with less than $500,000 gross profits from paying into the system.
“One thing at the heart of this debate is to not push people out of system but instead bring them in,” he said. “Today we doubled the ceiling on small business — anyone under $500,000 wouldn’t have to pay in. Their employees could go into the exchange to purchase their own insurance. Then, as you go up there is a sliding scale, with employers who want to offer insurance able to do so, or they can pay into the system.”
The concept of an exchange is similar to a marketplace where people would shop for insurance. There would be certain basic standards that all insurance companies would have to meet in order to offer plans in the exchange, including the barring of pre-existing conditions as a way to deny coverage.
The public option would be one of the plans offered in the exchange and would be non-profit, which coupled with insurance industry reforms could drive down costs caused by high administrative costs and excessive profits.
For example, private insurers would be required to spend at least 85 percent of premiums on actual health care, rather than reserving 25 percent of premiums paid for administration and profit.
But, Heinrich concluded, one of the issues now is that the average small business offering health insurance pays “dramatically higher rates” due to all the people who don’t have insurance.
“We have to arrest those costs,” he said.
One of the callers asked Heinrich why a single-payer system wasn’t on the table.
“The sticky part is dealing with folks who want to keep the coverage they have now,” he said. “It would cause huge issues to say we were going to move them into a government-run system.”
The solution has to be an “American” system, he continued. When taking into account that they are essentially trying to retrofit an employer-based system cobbled together over 50 years, it gets complicated, he said.
“I do think a well-crafted public option will drive down costs and mimic some of those outcomes [of a single-payer system],” he concluded.