Let’s Hear From Constituents Before Voting on Health Care Bill

By Beacon Staff

With the number of competing interests in health care reform, it can be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. When Congress finally settles on a single bill, Montanans will need some time to study it for themselves.

From the start, proponents of government-run health care have railed against the “powerful special interests” that are standing in the way of their vision of socialized medicine. And they’re right to condemn the overreaching influence some powerful Washington, D.C. interests have on our legislative system. But in the health care tug-of-war, it’s disingenuous to ignore the special interests pulling on the other side as well.

Does anyone really believe the vested interests – all of them – don’t have a big say in whatever reform is being debated in Congress?

Despite all of the back-room influence brokered in Washington, at the end of the day, the only special interests that matter to me are those of the people I represent. And those interests have, all too often, been left out of the room.

That’s why, throughout the month of August, I met with folks all across Montana and heard directly from them about their health care experiences, concerns and ideas. I held 16 public listening sessions across the state and sought input from patients, doctors, seniors, Native Americans, hospital administrators, pharmacists, Montana health insurance companies, rural health care providers and small businesses.

The folks at my listening sessions came with handmade signs and a desire to have their voices heard. They spoke from the heart. They told me their stories, and shared their concerns.

There was a doctor in Bozeman who described her anguish at limiting the number of Medicare patients she could see because the government payments didn’t cover the cost of seeing them. I heard from a young man in Hamilton whose emotional story about the care his grandmother received through Medicaid in her final days highlighted a success story of our current system. And, I heard concerns about the unsustainable levels of federal spending and higher taxes that would force small businesses to cut benefits or lay off workers.

While citizens across the country made news at town hall meetings, some cynics tried to write them off as pawns of the insurance or pharmaceutical industries. By suggesting they were just an extension of the toxic Washington, D.C., atmosphere, it was easier to ignore them. The people I heard from weren’t paid political operatives with expensive signs and focus-group tested talking points; they were regular folks, with real concerns.

I heard time and again from Montanans that it’s critical for any health care reform measure to do four things: 1) enhance affordability, 2) enhance accessibility, 3) enhance quality, and 4) enhance choice. I’ve reached across the aisle to find workable solutions that can achieve these goals without inviting the government into the hospital room.

And while we work together to heal health care, we also want to make sure we do no harm. At my listening sessions, many expressed concerns about a so-called public option that creates a government-run health insurance system intended to compete with private insurers. Opposition to the public option comes from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress because it wouldn’t compete on a level playing field. Not only would the government be free from any need for profit, it would also have the full regulatory strength of the federal government behind it.

These differences would give the public option an advantage that would, over time, drive private alternatives out of business and reduce consumer choice. Without a private role in the cost of health care, rationing is inevitable. 
Neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate has produced a final bill yet. It’s too early to know what that bill will ultimately include, although it’s a good bet that the special interests on both sides will have had a say in what is included.

But we don’t work for the special interests in Washington.

That’s why I’ve asked for a 30-day adjournment after the final bill is printed to allow each member of Congress to return home and hear what their constituents think. My August town hall meetings again reminded me that it’s more important than ever to get out of the Washington spin-zone to hear what our bosses think. We need to hear from more than the special interests on either side before we vote; not after.

Our children and grandchildren won’t remember how fast we reformed health care but they will remember how well we fixed it. We can take 30 days to listen to what Montanans think.

Denny Rehberg is Republican Congressman for Montana.

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