By Tim Ryan
The Shawano Leader
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
A massive health care reform proposal is in the works and only weeks away from being introduced, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI), though what that proposal will be is still unclear.
“I’m as nervous as you are, if not more about what health care solution is coming forward,” Kagen told a sometimes skeptical gathering Tuesday afternoon at ThedaCare Physicians in Shawano.
Kagen stopped in Shawano during a tour promoting what he hopes will be included in any health care reform proposals.
Some of the key points essential to health care reform, he said, would include barring insurance comp- anies from discriminating against pre-existing conditions; establishing a more competitive marketplace to make care affordable; open disclosure of prices; and elimination of waste.
“In the next six weeks, we’re going to rewrite the rules of health care,” Kagen said.
Kagen said it was important for Congress to hear from their constituents about their health care concerns if lawmakers are going to have the right information on which to make a decision. He also conceded getting the right bill might be a matter of luck.
However, he was optimistic a good health care reform package would result.
“I’m really an optimist,” he said. “I think we’re going to get health care reform as good as the government can do it.”
Kagen faced some tough questions about whether the government can come up with a bill that would protect consumers when pharmaceutical and insurance companies have seats at the table providing input on the crafting of the proposal.
Kagen said it had been part of President Obama’s strategy to invite all the players into the room and make the process as transparent as possible.
Kagen said he envisions a three-tiered system comprised of veterans’ health care, government-sponsored health care and “hopefully, a competitive, open and transparent marketplace.”
The session, which lasted well over an hour, veered off into a number of other topics, including jobs being outsourced overseas, the financial crisis, dairy prices — which Kagen said were being artificially manipulated on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange — and a provision in the recent credit card bill allowing guns in state parks.
Some attendees said afterward they were disappointed in the lack of detail about what to expect in the health care reform proposal and the time spent detouring into other topics after Kagen had opened the floor to questions.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the economy seemed to tie with health care as a top priority for attendees.
In addressing a question about the banking crisis, Kagen said he differs from Lawrence Summers, Obama’s economic adviser and the former U.S. Treasury secretary, over the idea of cash infusion for the banks.
Kagen said a better option is zero percent loans for small businesses and a cut in the interest rate for federal home loan mortgage holders.
Kagen said he would like to see the biggest banks — those the government has had to bail out — broken into smaller, regional banks.
“My feeling is if you’re too big to fail, you shouldn’t exist,” he said.
He said he also plans to co-sponsor a bill to make the Federal Reserve more responsible to Congress.
“They would undergo an audit and be held accountable,” he said.