Parties split on health care bill, some officials applaud legislationPublished 8:58am Wednesday, March 24, 2010
By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star
President Barack Obama signed an historic $938 billion health care reform bill Tuesday morning that will extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans.
Reactions from Michigan politicians are split down party lines, while state and local health care officials applauded the legislation.
Theresa Green, director of Community Health Planning for the Berrien County Health Department, said the department is encouraged by the legislation and called it a “good first step toward a solution.”
“We are thrilled that something is being done to reform the health care system,” Green said. “We are really looking forward to the prevention aspects in health care reform and hoping that it unfolds the way it is expected.”
Green said anything that will help the growing number of uninsured residents of Berrien County is worth supporting.
The Niles-Benton Harbor region ranks second to last in percentage of uninsured non-elderly residents between 2005 and 2007 at 22.7 percent, according to a June 2009 study by the Michigan Department of Community Health. The region only trails Flint at 22.9 percent.
Green said if the legislation is effective in its goal of extending coverage to 95 percent of all those eligible under age 65, “it would bring a lot of change to the community.”
Green also noted it is “too early to tell” how the reforms will impact the cost and quality of health care locally.
The Michigan Health and Hospital Association backs the health care overhaul as well.
MHA President Spencer Johnson said universal health care coverage has been a goal of the MHA for more than ten years and called the legislation “a step in the right direction toward increased coverage and access for all.”
“However, many coverage expansion provisions will not truly begin until 2014, translating into several more years of the hospitals and other health care providers struggling to keep the health care system patched together,” Johnson said in a statement Monday.
The legislation would restrict insurance companies from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, denying coverage to children for pre-existing conditions and canceling policies due to sickness.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan President and CEO Daniel J. Loepp said in a statement that his company already acts “much as Congress now requires other insurers to act.”
He said BCBS already accepts everyone, no matter their health status, and asks for the same premium regardless of health condition. And as a nonprofit insurer, the company does not make money on health care. Loepp said BCBS is happy to now be on a “more level playing field” with other insurers.
Loepp also noted that the passage of the legislation does not mark the end of health care reform and will require plenty of work in the coming years.
“Expansion of coverage also comes with challenges that will require innovative approaches to stave off increased costs,” he said.
Michigan political leaders were split down party lines.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a press release the legislation will “save lives and save jobs,” allowing more than 100,000 Michigan small businesses to receive tax cuts to help pay for health insurance and helping middle-class families receive coverage.
State Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, was far less enthusiastic and voted against the measure.
“We will spend a trillion dollars over the next 10 years for just six years of benefits,” Upton said during floor debate on Sunday. “Only in Washington can folks stand here and claim spending a trillion dollars will actually cut the deficit.”
No Republicans voted for the bill in the House or the Senate, and several Republican state attorneys are filing lawsuits, calling the legislation unconstitutional.
The battle between the parties will continue Tuesday when legislators debate a package of changes to the measure.