Rep. Larsen gets grilled over healthcare

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen got an earful on healthcare reform from his constituents on Monday night.

And it was just what the congressman wanted.

With Congress poised to vote on a landmark healthcare reform bill later this week, perhaps as soon as Thursday, Larsen hosted a telephone town hall to answer questions and address concerns from residents across the 2nd District.

Larsen began the session with a reminder that it wasn’t the first time he’d listened to local concerns about healthcare.

He detailed the two town halls he held this summer, including one in Everett that drew a crowd of more than 3,500, and mentioned the other healthcare meetings he had attended, including a forum in Coupeville and nearly 30 other meetings with healthcare professionals and small-business owners.

Healthcare reform has been the topic of much talk this year, and the 2nd District Democrat said his office has responded to about 5,000 letters and phone calls from constituents.

Larsen said there was no question that the healthcare system needs reform.

“I think healthcare needs to happen. The status quo is unacceptable,” he said.

Larsen said HR 3962, the reform bill introduced last week in the House, had his support. Titled the “Affordable Health Care for America,” Larsen said it would expand access to quality care for millions of Americans, while banning health insurance companies from discriminating against people for pre-existing conditions, their gender or age.

It would also include a fix to long-standing problems with Medicare reimbursements, he said.

“Many of the principles I have supported are in it,” Larsen said, adding that it also contained a “public option” that he could back.

“The public option is just that, an option,” he said. “No one will be forced to join.”

Larsen said it’s been estimated by the Congressional Budget Office that approximately 6 million Americans will be able to qualify for enrollment.

Before taking questions from callers, Larsen gave the basics of the 1,990-page bill.

He said he had read it, every page, during the weekend, and referred callers to specific pages where they would find more detail.

Banning discrimination on pre-existing conditions, that started on page 95. Lowering the cost of prescription drugs, page 582. Fixing Medicare reimbursement issues, page 497.

The net cost of the bill is $894 billion over 10 years.

Larsen said the bill was “fully paid for,” with savings and efficiencies in the healthcare system covering half of the cost, and the other half covered by a “surcharge” on the wealthiest Americans.

“Middle-class Americans will see no tax increase,” Larsen said.

The telephone town hall resembled a radio call-in show, with callers identifying themselves by first name and town. Many callers were from the northern end of the 2nd District, which spans Island, Skagit, San Juan and Whatcom counties and parts of Snohomish and King counties.

“I’m glad to hear you read the bill,” said Harry in Anacortes, who then asked Larsen if he understood what he had read.

“I understand it pretty well,” Larsen said.

“The real question is, have you read every bill as thoroughly as this one,” the caller asked.

“Honestly, no, I haven’t,” Larsen said.

About 310 people dialed in at the start of the telephone town hall, but the number of listeners rose to more than 800 before it wrapped up in just under an hour.

Most of the questions centered on issues raised early in the healthcare debate by its critics; from the cost of the effort, to eligibility, to the mandate that people buy health insurance.

Christine in Everett asked if the healthcare reform measure would lead to federal funding of abortions.

Larsen said if someone purchased a healthcare plan with the help of a federal subsidy, abortions would have to be paid by the person’s premiums that they would personally pay.

“That’s how the bill is structured right now,” Larsen said.

Another caller said she had heard others in Congress say the bill would lead to the end of private health insurance.

Larsen noted that he grew up in plain-talking Arlington.

“They are not telling the truth, I don’t know how else to put it,” Larsen said.

Barbara from Anacortes said she was worried about losing her Medicare Advantage plan.

“Am I going to lose what I have now?” she asked.

Larsen said the bill would focus on phasing out overpayments to private companies that are part of the Medicare Advantage system, a set-up that does not provide extra services for seniors.

“I don’t foresee any major impact on healthcare services for seniors,” he said.

Dale in Anacortes asked if illegal aliens would be eligible for healthcare under the bill.

Larsen said the bill prevents them from receiving government-funded healthcare, and the bill includes a section on citizenship verification.

The House is expected to vote on the bill on Thursday or Friday. It can be found online here.

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