Photo Caption: Bob Gibbs
As their first order of business, they set Jan. 12 as their date to vote on a repeal of the Democrats’ 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the health-care reform bill or “Obamacare.”
The NEWS interviewed one of our region’s new congressmen, U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, 18th District/R-Lakeville, about this issue earlier this week. An interview with the other area congressman, Bill Johnson, 6th District/R-Poland, will be in an upcoming issue.
While Republicans expect to pass the repeal easily in the House, such an effort faces a much steeper challenge in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that President Obama himself would ever sign off on such legislation. Nevertheless, Republicans campaigned largely on seeking such a repeal.
Both of this area’s two freshmen Republican congressman campaigned on repeal of the health-care legislation. U.S. Reps. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, and Bill Johnson, R-Poland, both listed repeal of the reform as a top priority when they got to Congress.
Johnson even went so far as to turn down congressional health coverage, although, as a veteran, Johnson already receives a military health plan from the Veterans Administration. Gibbs, meanwhile, is taking the congressional health insurance, calling it akin to employer-employee coverage.
In an interview Tuesday, Gibbs laid out his reasons for wanting to repeal health-care reform wholesale, as well as his ideas for how to decrease health-care costs in the United States and provide better health-care access to more Americans.
“What they passed is a disaster,” he contended. “Already I’m hearing reports of people losing their health coverage because premium costs are going up. And it’s going to be a budget-buster both for the federal government and for the states.”
Gibbs said that his idea is to focus on addressing the escalating costs of health care in America. He said that a new plan needs to incorporate as much private-sector involvement as possible.
“The number-one thing is that tort-reform and the defense of medicine issue needs to be addressed,” he said, citing tort-reform efforts in Ohio that he said have had a positive impact in reducing frivolous lawsuits. “Two, portability. You ought to be able to buy health insurance across state lines. It would create some competition in the private sector.”
The third thing that needs to be done is to incentivize health savings accounts, he said. This would help reduce costs in two ways, he asserted.
First, if more people used such accounts for routine and preventative care, he said, it would reduce administrative costs for hospitals and doctor’s offices that spend so much time filing insurance forms.
Second, he said, using such accounts, patients would have more incentive to question and involve themselves in what types of tests and treatments they receive and what is truly necessary.
“I think that helps in the defense of medicine cost issue,” he said. “Those are what I call market-based reforms that go a long way to address the escalating costs… and at the same time ensure patients quality health care, and strengthen patient-physician relationships.”
He said that when the patient has a personal responsibility involved, it will cause him or her to be more frank with a given physician about what is necessary and what isn’t.
“Right now, the doctors will just order anything because they’re afraid of lawsuits,” Gibbs said. “I hear that a lot; physicians decide to do all (these tests) because they’re worried about being sued.”
Gibbs said that he sees state-level regulation of the insurance industry as a positive thing, but at the same time sees the need for portability of coverage across state lines.
“You can buy car insurance across state lines,” he pointed out. “You can buy everything else across state lines except health insurance.”
When asked what can be done to protect rural hospitals, which often struggle with reimbursement rates, Gibbs said he would seek input from the medical community in rural areas.
One of the more controversial aspects of the health-reform legislation has been the mandate on individuals to purchase coverage. In December, a Virginia federal judge found the mandate to be unconstitutional. Other court rulings have found it to be permissible.
Some health-policy experts have argued that the mandate is critical because it spreads risk more broadly, controlling insurance premiums for everyone, and is key to allowing the federal government to prohibit insurers from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. On the other hand, critics argue that the mandate exceeds the power of Congress, which, they say, does not have the authority to compel citizens to purchase health insurance under the Constitution’s Commerce or General Welfare clauses.
Gibbs said a better plan would be for individual states to partner with the private sector to develop group-risk pools for high-risk Americans.
“I don’t think anybody’s got the magic silver bullet to fix the problem,” he said. “So let’s let the states individually work through things to see if they can come up with a way to address that huge challenge.”
He pointed out that society currently pays a huge cost because when these high-risk Americans can’t obtain coverage, they don’t get routine or preventative care but instead cost the taxpayers by going to the emergency room when they have a problem.
Referring to small businesses, he said a big problem with the current health-care legislation is that people won’t be able to keep what they have and like because it’s better for a given business’ bottom line to pay the fine and let their employees get insurance through the exchanges than to provide insurance to employees directly.
Considering that Republicans only control the U.S. House, and not the Senate or the White House, Gibbs said that if there are enough votes in the House, and the American people rally behind their efforts, it will put pressure on the Senate and President Obama to take notice.