Saturday, November 14, 2009

Congresswoman Dahlkemper discusses health-care reform

health care reform

U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, of Erie, might have put her political life on the line -- or enhanced it -- with her vote on health-care reform a week ago.

The House narrowly passed the bill, 220-215, and it included several amendments offered by Dahlkemper, D-3rd Dist.

Dahlkemper, who is anti-abortion, co-sponsored an amendment that would maintain the federal law that prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Her other measures include grants for communities to work on childhood obesity; a pilot project providing incentives for people to stop smoking, lose weight and make other healthy lifestyle choices; and a proposal that would allow children to stay on their parents' health-care plan until age 27.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act would cover another 36 million people by 2019, leaving just 4 percent of the population without coverage. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says about 17 percent are without insurance now.

But it comes with a huge price tag -- as much as $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Dahlkemper said the cost might not be that high, but she said savings would occur over the long term through prevention, early diagnosis of illnesses and other ways.

The Erie Times-News interviewed Dahlkemper about the vote as the issue moves to the Senate.

1Why was it important for you to vote for the health-care reform bill?

As I have gone around the district over the last two years now, since I announced in October 2007 that I was running for Congress, health care has been one of the main issues that people have discussed with me. The cost of health care and the inability of some people to access health care has been an issue of great concern to the people that I represent. So I believe we have a broken system that is unsustainable, and if we do not do reform now, we will continue to go down a road to a less healthy society at a much greater cost.

2Was it the most important vote you've cast during your brief time in the House?

Yes, it was. It affects every constituent in my district and it will, I believe, make a major difference in their lives in a positive way.

3What are the biggest misconceptions about the bill?

I think the biggest misconception is that it's some kind of government takeover of health care. All of our health providers will remain in private or nonprofit hands. There still will be private insurers covering the majority of our citizens, and the individuals, along with their doctors, will make health-care decisions. The other misconception is that somehow it's bad for seniors, and yet Medicare will be strengthened by this legislation.

4What else do you believe has been misunderstood?

There's an area that's been misunderstood and that's the (government-run) public option. I like to call the public option the generic option. For those people who are uninsured, when we open up the health-insurance exchange in 2013, an individual will be able to go into that exchange and be able to choose between the typical insurance carriers in our region, and they're also going to have an additional choice, and that's the public option. Now, the individual is going to choose, and no one else. They can choose the public option or a familiar name such as Blue Cross-Blue Shield, UPMC or HealthAmerica. The reason we need the public option is that it will help to give competition that will then drive down the cost. Many areas only have one or two insurance companies that really control the market.

5Your vote angered conservatives on the one side and abortion-rights liberals on the other. Are you worried that this vote could hurt your re-election chances in 2010?

I actually believe that this vote will help my re-election for 2010 because I think as people understand the legislation better, they will see we'll have an improvement in our health-care system, and it will help bring security and stability to that health-care system.

6What do the polls tell you Americans are saying about this health-care bill, and do you pay much attention to those polls?

Certainly, I look at the polls in general and I try to listen to my constituents more than anything. But polls are only as good as the pollster who is doing it. I look at the number of uninsured, for example, in my district and there are 29,000 uninsured in my district, and that's a lot, and there's many more underinsured. One of the best things with this legislation is the insurance reform. We're going to end discrimination for pre-existing conditions. No longer will your insurance company be able to deny you coverage for these pre-existing conditions or remove you from your insurance because you get sick.

7How soon would you expect the Senate to vote on a health-care reform bill? Will it be before the end of the year? Or will the bill be delayed long enough that it runs into the midterm elections and nothing gets done?

I really am optimistic that the Senate will get its bill passed out of the Senate sometime in the next few weeks, and then it will go to (House-Senate) conference and we'll have a chance to vote on a final bill before the Christmas holiday. Our calendar now has us in session up to the 23rd of December. That's very unusual. Normally, Congress is there very little in the whole month of December.

8Is that because of the health-care bill?

I'm sure it is.

9If the Senate approves a bill, how different do you think the final product will be? There's already talk about a revolt from House Democrats on the abortion restrictions.

Obviously, there's many different issues that will have to be dealt with, and compromises will have to be made. That includes the exact form of the public option ... how the bill is paid for, along with many smaller issues throughout the bill.

10Are changes over the abortion restrictions a deal breaker for you?

We had a very strong vote on the abortion funding issue in the House. And I think it's important for the people to understand that we aren't changing the law and we are not changing the ability of a woman to get an abortion. We are restricting in the bill the ability of using public funds to pay for an abortion. Since 1976, when the Hyde Amendment was placed on federal funding for abortion, there has been no federal funding for abortion. So this amendment just keeps the status quo of what's been in place since 1976, but it does not change the law at all.