MOUNT VERNON — Rumors and confusion are rampant about the pending health care bill in Congress, said Ohio 18th District Rep. Zack Space Tuesday during a district-crossing tour. Space is one of seven “Blue Dog,” fiscally conservative Democrats who demanded and received moderating changes and a voting postponement on the bill last week in the House’s Energy Committee. This, he said, allows some time for reading, reflection and review before the House reconvenes in September.
The congressman is touring the southeast Ohio district he represents to clear up misconceptions about the bill and to gauge constituents’ thoughts.
“I want to talk about what is in it, as well as what isn’t in it,” Space said.
Contrary to the impression that the White House is hammering dissenters, Space said President Obama called him Monday and thanked him for pulling the bill toward the political center.
In its earlier phases, the bill called for a penalty on companies with an annual payroll of $100,000 and up that didn’t provide insurance for employees. That level was later raised to $250,000, but the Blue Dogs demanded the level be raised to $500,000, allowing most small businesses to avoid the penalty. The fine would vary depending on the actual payroll amount.
As an example, Space said a company with an annual payroll of less than $500,000 would not be expected to have an insurance benefit for employees. A company with a slightly more than $500,000 annual payroll would. If it doesn’t, it would be levied a 2 percent fine. A business with payroll of $750,000 or higher that does not offer insurance would be fined the maximum amount, 8 percent.
pace cited the case of the small-business owners quoted in the Zanesville Times Recorder on Monday, who were afraid that with one employee, they would be forced to offer insurance or suffer a penalty.
“I wish they had called me,” Space said. “I’d be glad to explain that with one employee on the payroll, they won’t be affected unless they’re paying that employee more than $500,000 a year.”
He said the plan will also offer up to a 50 percent tax credit as incentive to small businesses to provide insurance, on top of the deductions already allowed.
Space said he and his fellow moderate Democrats also insisted on not tying the health care plan to Medicare, something which hospitals have said would drive them out of business. The suggested changes fix this problem, Space said, while still taking measures to bring the financial cost of health care under control. He pointed out that healthcare costs have skyrocketed in recent years, well above the rates of economic growth and inflation.
Space said things may yet change, as the bill must clear the House in September, then clear the Senate along with any changes the senators make. Then the differences to the two bills have to be settled in committee and voted upon by the full Congress. If the bill clears all of these hurdles, it will go to President Obama for a signature, making it law. Space said that if all goes well, a final version might be available by the end of the year. He said his own support would hinge on keeping the moderate changes the Blue Dogs engineered, plus details that must be worked out to make it deficit-neutral.
“It has to be paid for,” Space said.
Although these details fall to the House Ways and Means Committee, Space said he would only support the plan if it is fiscally disciplined, not adding further to the growing national debt. He said this discipline is not an easy or pleasant thing, but it is just as necessary as fixing a health care system where 46 million Americans either can’t afford or can’t get approved for insurance.
“This will keep the insurance companies honest,” Space said, noting that the plan throws more emphasis on preventative medicine. Space said preventative care is something the companies have not supported much in the past, and postponing problems fobbed a lot of patients off to Medicare when they were older. Space said this bill is a long-overdue attempt to create a holistic system that considers health issues from cradle to grave.
Space rejected the hot-button term “socialized medicine.”
“That’s simply not true,” he said, contrasting the bill with Canada’s system of direct government coverage. He said this plan harnesses for consumers what is good about market forces, but keeps the insurance system privately owned. Those who try to call it socialism, he said, are either misinformed or using the term as a political tack.
Space said another popular myth is that the plan will ration health care by euthanizing the elderly. Space said this rumor would be laughable if there weren’t so many who believe it. He said all the plan does is, first, make living will arrangements available to patients without a lawyer’s participation, and, second, to allow doctors to discuss all potential options with patients. This includes terminal patients who may seek advice on not having extreme measures taken to prolong their lives if their conditions worsen.
“Let’s debate the bill and keep the scare tactics out of it,” Space said.