This time it was a Republican's turns to discuss health care reform as BlogHer continues it's series of bi-partisan conference calls connecting women with legislators.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers spent time answering questions on everything from pre-existing conditions to her stance on the public option.
You can hear audio of BlogHer's call with McMorris Rodgers here:
Or read the transcript here on BlogHer.com.
Operator introduction deleted.
Nancy Watzman: Hi. Welcome everyone. I’m Nancy Watzman of the Sunlight Foundation representing Blogher today and their community journalism initiative on healthcare policy.
The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit dedicated to using the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency.
As CEO Lisa Stone announced, Blogher has been sponsoring a bipartisan series of telephone conference calls to connect women bloggers directly with their legislators.
Today on the call we have Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Rodgers is a Republican and represents Washington State’s 5th Congressional District. I’ll turn it over to the congresswoman now.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Hello everyone and thanks. I just want to start by thanking Blogher for hosting today’s session. I look forward to this dialogue. I am Cathy McMorris Rodgers. I’m starting my third term in Congress, so I guess I’m about half way through my third term in Congress.
Just by way of background, I do come from Washington State. I was born and raised on the farm, involved in a family owned business for many years, served the State House for ten years. I’m also a mom. I’ve been married just for three years and we have a two year old son, named Cole, so I know firsthand now the challenges of being a working mom.
I today wanted to talk just briefly about the healthcare issue that is currently before Congress, and especially as it relates to women.
I’m not sure how many realize that women really are the chief healthcare officer in many families, responsible for taking children to appointments, addressing the needs of their spouses, aging parents. In fact, it’s estimated that women make 85% of the healthcare decisions in this country.
Women also wear other hats as it relates to healthcare. It’s interesting to note that women are now - women owned businesses are now the fastest growing segment in our economy. And I think that is very exciting.
And in that role, women understand the challenges of providing health insurance to employees. They see first hand how they premium increases every year impact their ability to actually provide healthcare options to their employees.
Women also are working in the healthcare sector. When you look at nurse, 90% of nurses in this country are women, 98% of women are personal and home care aides. Women are also a growing segment of doctors in this country, which is exciting.
So, as we approach the healthcare debate, I think the prospective from women is very important and it’s one that needs to be recognized and I think it ultimately could have one of - be one of the loudest voices in the debate.
As a wife, as a mother, and as a member of Congress, I can tell you that, I’d like to see this healthcare debate focus on aspects of the system that are in true need of reform. And I approach healthcare reform wanting to answer three questions.
And the first question is, will the proposal improve the health of our country? And in that regard, I’d like to see us challenging America to be healthy. As we approach healthcare reform, our legislation, whatever passed Congress, needs to be creating a system that is actually going to provide incentives for each individual to be more responsible for his or her own healthcare and to make healthy decisions in their everyday lifestyle.
Secondly, does the proposal save money? The big challenge for us in healthcare is the rising cost and is the rising cost of healthcare itself, of the healthcare delivery system in America that then results in health insurance premiums increasing, and ultimately then, causes the number of uninsured in this country to increase.
So we need as we approach healthcare reform, to include provisions that are going to help save cost and put Medicare and Medicaid on paths to sustainability. It is -Medicare right now is scheduled to go bankrupt in 2017. We need to be addressing that.
Thirdly, I ask myself the question, does it protect the vulnerable? And I believe that it is very important, as we approach healthcare reform, that we recognize that there are those in this country who have severe healthcare needs and need extra support and there is a role for the government to be providing a safety net and making sure that we’re taking care of the vulnerable in this country.
Right now there are several bills that are before Congress. I think everyone is aware that four out of the five committees in the House and the Senate have now passed different versions and this debate is on the forefront and we need - I have serious concerns about all of the bills that are currently before Congress.
I would really prefer to see us scrap the current proposals and come together, sit down, Republicans and Democrats in a way that we could actually talk about how we can move forward with a healthcare bill that will meet the needs that I outlined, answering these questions.
The country has, in my opinion, rejected the bills that are currently before Congress. The outcry that we’ve heard at the Town Hall Meetings and across this country is largely people saying, “This is not the kind of healthcare reform that we want in this country.”
Nancy Watzman: On that note, maybe we should turn to the questions?
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Okay.
Nancy Watzman: It’s again a lot of the folks here have a lot of great things to ask.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Sure.
Nancy Watzman: So...
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Sure. Sounds good.
Operator: We have a first question. Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to register a question, please press the one, followed by the four on your telephone. You will hear a three tone prompt to acknowledge your request. And if your question has been answered and you would like to withdraw your registration, please press the one, followed b the three.
If you’re using a speaker phone, please lift your handset before entering your requests.
One moment please, for our first question. And our first question comes from the line (I466). Please proceed with your question.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Hello.
(Jennifer): Hi. My name’s (Jennifer) and I live in Texas. And I have a question as a small business owner, that one of the things you talked about on your Web site, was that you wanted small businesses -one of your proposals was for small businesses to be able to band together to be able to buy better health insurance. Because that’s a huge concern for me, not only being a woman, but a small business owner, is that the insurance premiums are just absolutely outrageous.
So I was hoping that maybe you could just take a second and tell me just a little bit more about that?
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Sure. Sure. And that’s a great question and I believe that this is one area where there is broad agreement, that we to be providing more options for our small business owners all across this country.
I have been a long time supporter of the association health plans, for example, that would allow small business owners within a state to band together, or beyond state boundaries, to band together and to access plans outside of state boundaries that would provide you more choices for your employees.
The unions and the corporations in this country have the access to these types of national plans, yet our small business owners don’t. And as - when you see who - when you look at who the uninsured are in this country, about a third to a half of them are your 18 to 35 year olds. But the second largest chunk is your small business owners and their employees that, although they would like to have health insurance and small business owners would like to offer health insurance to their employees, they simply do not have access to affordable plans.
So this is an area where I think that there’s some agreement. This is a step that we should be taking as soon as possible to allow our small business owners more choices.
Nancy Watzman: Do we have the next question lined up?
Operator: Yes absolutely. Our next question comes from the line (I500). Please proceed with your question.
(Audrey Holden): Hi Representative Rodgers. My name is (Audrey Holden) and I’m calling from Maine. Unlike a lot of people in the country, we do have health insurance, however, because of an ongoing chronic illness, our health insurance costs threaten to bankrupt our family and we’re near foreclosure due to the rising cost of our premiums and our deductibles.
This is something I haven’t heard addressed at all any way from the right and I’d like to know how you guys plan on addressing the rising costs of premiums, deductibles and copays, which threaten millions of families just like mine across the nation?
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Right. And that’s a good question and it’s one that we must answer. And I want to answer it in two parts. First is, just addressing the cost drivers within the system in general and we need to take action that will help reduce the cost drivers that are currently driving up healthcare costs all across this country for everyone and that includes medical liability reforms, it includes incentives for wellness.
One of the biggest cost drivers in our system, is the chronic diseases, the preventable chronic diseases, your heart disease, your diabetes that is driving up costs. We need health IT and we - and there’s other ways to actually control the overall costs.
To your point, and I would as far as the individual that has some ongoing healthcare issues that are expensive and cause your premiums to increase even more than others, I would say that we on the conservative side, we recognize that there needs to be support for those. And there needs to - we’d like to see the high risk pools expanded in this country and more support given to - from the Federal Government to making these high risk pools available and affordable to people like that - like you and your family that find yourself in this situation.
Nancy Watzman: Okay, and the next question?
Operator: And our next question comes from line (I481). Please proceed with your question.
(Melissa): Hi. My name is (Melissa) and I’m calling from West Virginia. I wanted to know how the conservatives plan to address the preexisting condition and the problems that that causes for people that are chronically ill, like myself and the caller before me?
Can you speak to how you feel about having preexisting conditions not, you know, just not be acknowledged, that we need to get rid of that in the insurance industry?
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Well, and this is - it’s unacceptable what is currently happening in the insurance industry. The fact that someone with a preexisting condition is just flat out not able to get health insurance.
And I - my son has special needs and he - my son has Down’s Syndrome and I hear a lot from the disability community, a lot of these examples of individuals, families that are not able to get health insurance for their children or for their family members because of a preexisting condition.
And so part of the solution needs to be that this is no longer allowed, just a blanket refusal or select - a selection by the health insurance companies. I think one of the solutions is the high risk pool, is allowing, is making a commitment to making these types of plans available and affordable to families then.
Because it - even if they’re available right now, sometimes they’re very expensive and so they need to be- there needs to be a commitment by the Federal Government to help our vulnerable and support these high risk pools.
Nancy Watzman: Okay. And I believe we have another question?
Operator: We do. We have a question from line (I507). Please proceed with your question.
(Julie Pippert): Hi. This is (Julie Piper) and I’m calling from Texas. One of the states that’s been Republican run for a long time and not only allows a lot of preexisting condition exclusions, but also doesn’t force insurance companies to cover basic conditions, such maternity care.
It caused a catastrophic financial collapse for my family personally, but I wanted to back track on my original question, because of something that you said and that is, that the majority of the Americans are not backing healthcare reform.
Kaiser Family Foundation just yesterday put out that public support for healthcare reform increased in September. Fifty seven percent of families now believe that tackling healthcare reform is more important that ever and that’s an increase.
Additionally, basically right now, another new survey, also from Kaiser found that Medicaid and State spending on Medicaid has climbed sharply. It’s been an enormous increase, an average of 5.4% and it is causing massive state budget problems.
Now, affordable for middle class, small business, and also the poor and working poor, being uninsured is a big problem. So how would your plan solve that?
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: I agree that America wants healthcare reform. America has rejected the current proposal before Congress, HR3200 that is the bill currently before the House and that’s the legislation that does not have the support of the American people.
The numbers that I’ve seen it is in the mid 30’s as far as the number of people that support this plan and an overwhelming majority have rejected the current bill that’s before Congress.
Having said that, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pass healthcare reform. I have been a longtime proponent of healthcare reform, of taking steps to insure that everyone in this country has access to affordable and quality healthcare.
You mentioned Medicaid and Medicaid spending and how it is bankrupting or causing deficits at the State level. Part of the proposal currently before Congress is just - is to put more people on Medicaid and ask the State to cover that cost. It is a - it’s a huge shift. It’s a cost shift from the Federal Government to the State and Medicaid - if you know anything about Medicaid, it is not the premium healthcare for anyone in this country.
I believe that we need to be taking steps to actually make Medicaid better, improve it, make - you know, we’ve made a commitment to low income, to the developmentally disabled in this country, and it’s largely through Medicaid.
And yet, try to find a doctor, try to find a healthcare provider who will take a Medicaid patient. It is very difficult because the Federal Government doesn’t pay the bills. The Federal Government doesn’t reimburse at cost. The Federal Government reimburses the provider at 50 to 60% of the cost, so as a doctor every time you see with Medicaid, you’re losing money and it’s not sustainable.
I’ve worked on legislation to improve Medicaid reimbursements. I actually was a part of getting legislation through for critical access hospitals, so that their Medicaid would be reimbursed at cost and it’s kept hospitals in the rural areas open.
And it goes to one of my fundamental concerns about the current proposal, it is expanding programs like Medicaid, it is creating a new program called the Public Option, the Government option, that is very similar to Medicaid and Medicare, yet these programs are not sustainable. These programs are on paths to bankruptcy at the Federal level. They are programs - they are causing budget challenges at the State level because they are not - we are not being honest about the cost and the quality of the care within these programs.
And we need to improve these programs as a part of healthcare reform. So there’s a lot that needs to be done with healthcare reform. I just do not believe that the current bill, HR3200, has the support of the American people.
Nancy Watzman: Okay. The next question?
Operator: Our next question comes from line (I509). Please proceed with your question.
(Jaelithe Judy): Hi Congresswoman. My name is (Jalis Judy) and I live in Missouri, but my parents - my mother and stepfather actually live outside of Spokane in your district and they own a small farm and a small business.
And they both have chronic health conditions. My mother has sleep apnea, my stepfather has diabetes. And it’s been very difficult for them to acquire private health insurance at an affordable cost because of these preexisting conditions that they have.
And I know that you’ve already spoken a bit about preexisting conditions and the unwillingness of insurance companies to provide affordable plans to people who do have chronic health conditions. But I’m wondering - I’ve read through your proposal, House Resolution 621 that you introduced on July 9, that was about what you would like to see in a healthcare reform bill.
And there was nothing in that proposal about banning insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions. The vast majority of the Republican bills and amendments in Congress right now, do not outlaw rescissions, which is you know, dropping people for having preexisting conditions or a denial of coverage for preexisting conditions.
And I’m just wondering, if you support protecting people with preexisting conditions, why is it that you and the Republicans in general have not proposed any serious regulations on private insurance companies to prevent them from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions
And if you plan to expand the high risk pools, you know, as an alternative to banning private insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, isn’t that also a government funded, basically a public option and insurance plan for those people? And how do you plan to you know, keep that a cost effective measure, if you believe that a general public option would be unsustainable?
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: The House Republicans, I would encourage you to look at HR3400, which outlines four pillars that is - that are fundamental to reform and the first pillar addresses the preexisting condition.
This - we’ve outlined many different ways our priorities - and we just came out last week with three priorities and one included addressing the preexisting conditions.
So it is very much a priority for us.
(Jaelithe Judy): I understand that it’s a priority, but how specifically do you intend to address that issue? I have not seen any specific plans to address that issue?
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Well, I would encourage you to look at HR3400 and look at that first pillar that is dedicated to preexisting conditions and it is - it lays out the expansion of the high risk pools, it lays out language that would prohibit health insurance companies from continuing to discriminate the way that they do.
And I think as you listen to the leadership of the House Republicans, as you listen to others, we very much are talking about preexisting conditions.
Nancy Watzman: Okay, we have another question?
Operator: We do have another question from the line of (I415). Please proceed with your question.
(Erin Kotecki Vest): Hi. This is (Erin Kotecki Vest). I’m with Blogher and I am in California. I know you touched a bit on the public option in the current bill and the reasons you couldn’t support it, being the cost reasons.
Is there any circumstances under which you would support a public option considering that the latest New York Times CBS poll shows that 65% of the people would like to see one?
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: You know, my concern is to just make sure that we being realistic about the cost, also the functionality. When you think about the reality of what the public option will represent, it is - I would encourage you to think about your experience with other government agencies. Think about your experience when you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and you are trying to get your license renewed and the waiting lists that are - or the lines that you encounter and the lack of choice.
And just think of the way that government delivers services. I have concerns about the reality of a public option creating the waiting list, being the step that will ultimately lead us to a place where you have to call a government bureaucrat to get an appointment, and that is the person that is deciding which doctor that you see.
I had this experience when I signed my son up with Tricare. My husband is retired from the Navy and he is a 26 year veteran. And we had this experience.
I’m, you know, we just last week passed this bill in the house, the Student Loan Bill and I think this is a good example of how I see the public option working within healthcare.
When the Student Loan Bill was passed last week, this is the Federal Government insuring that there are loans - low interest rate loans available to students who want to college all across this country.
In the ‘70’s the Federal Government made a commitment to keep - to keeping those interest rates low, so the loans were actually managed by credit unions and banks all across this country and the Federal Government made a commitment to keeping interest rates low.
So if interest rates went so high, the Federal Government would come in and help with that cost.
In the early ‘90’s, we set up a government run student loan program, called the Direct Lending Program. And it was set up to be an auction, a choice, and now 15 years later, in 2009, when you look at universities and colleges all across this country, 20% of them have opted to offer this government option, the direct loan, student loan.
But just last week, we passed legislation that will eliminate the private sector in student lending and your only choice now, is going to be the government option.
And you might say, well so what? What does that mean for health care? This - it goes to our concern with the public option, that it starts out as the - as providing choice, providing competition within the marketplace. But the way that the government operates, it comes in and it becomes the dominant player and it truly is the - it is the step towards a single payer government run system, where we would all be one single system and it would be a government operated system.
I believe that we want competition in the marketplace. We want private sector and there is a rule for the government to be providing safety nets for populations that we identify need support, but we do not want a one size fits all health care system.
Nancy Watzman: Okay. I would like to ask you a question, Congressman, or actually first I would like to congratulate you, because I know you’ve stood up for openness and transparency in this debate. And are - that you are a sponsor of HR Resolution 554,, which the main priority of the Sunlight Foundation and would require that legislation be made available for 72 hours before Congress begins debating it.
So I just wanted to ask you, what role do you think, transparency, government transparency has in this healthcare debate and beyond that, what role do you think transparency needs to play in any reforms that are passed?
Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Well, I am a big proponent of transparency and I - and the Internet gives us the opportunity to really shine the light of day on what’s happening in Congress. Give the public the opportunity to actually look at legislation before it’s passed on, give members the chance to hear from people all across this country as to what they like, what their concerns are, and I believe that the outcome will be better legislation.
In recent years, we’ve seen these huge comprehensive bills in Congress. We refer to them as bills that become Christmas trees, because so much is added to them.
And members don’t have the chance to read the bill, let alone understand what’s in the bill. We find out weeks, months later what was actually in a bill.
That is not a good way to legislate. That doesn’t have a positive result. So I’m hopeful that the focus on transparency, by both Republicans and Democrats is going to result in more accountability.
I’d like to see us just you know, end the days of the comprehensive bills, these huge bills that no one knows what’s in it. And let’s start taking step by step approaches, where we can actually have debates on issues that are before us and have the chance to have the public give their input and actually understand what’s in the bill and what we’re voting on.
I also think that transparency could play an important role in tracking how Federal dollars are spent. You know, it just blows my mind.
One of the biggest challenges for me as a new member of Congress was just getting my arm around the amount of money that we spend and I’m quite concerned about the lack of transparency, the lack of accountability.
The Stimulus Bill, which authorized almost $800 billion in spending, you know, they’re already estimating that at least 10% of that $80 billion, is going to just be lost.
You know, and it just blows my mind. These are precious dollars that there’s so many needs in this country, we can’t afford to be wasting or losing money like that. We - and transparency I think can play a very important role in providing some accountability and insuring that these taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
Nancy Watzman: Okay, well thank you so much. That wraps up today’s call with Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Blogher. Thank you for participating and thank you Bloghers for joining us.
Please keep an eye on blogher.com for the audio and transcript of this call and for the announcement of the next call, where we will give you another opportunity to talk healthcare reform with legislators.
We want YOU to participate in our next call - stay tuned and be part of the conversation.
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