Provisions to require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and a fix for the Medicare “donut hole” last week prompted First District Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick to end months of suspense and to vote firmly in favor of the Democrat’s healthcare reform plan.
The measure passed 220 to 215. Much of the last-minute lobbying focused on moderate, swing-district Democrats like Kirkpatrick — who represents Rim Country. House Republicans were nearly unanimous in opposition.
Kirkpatrick said she campaigned on issues addressed by the bill that would extend medical insurance to an estimated 95 percent of the population and impose new rules on insurance companies.
Provisions in the bill would prevent any insurance plan from excluding coverage for pre-existing conditions, like high blood pressure, pregnancy, cancer or other health conditions. It would also close the “donut hole” in Medicare coverage, which requires seniors to pay the full, out-of-pocket cost of prescription drugs when costs fall between $2,700 and $6,154.
“I pledged to Arizonans that I would make insurance companies live up to their share of the bargain, and I pledged that I would make prescription drugs more affordable for our seniors. This bill will help realize those goals and benefit the health and wellness of thousands of people in my home district. H.R. 3962 is not perfect, but it makes the progress I promised to deliver for our families.”
However, critics maintained that the reform measures would impose heavy new tax burdens, force small businesses that could not provide insurance to lay off workers, wring too much savings out of Medicare and give the government too much control over the healthcare system.
Kirkpatrick said she believes the reforms would ultimately contain the rise in health costs, create jobs and save lives. She said spending on healthcare in the U.S. has more than doubled in the past 30 years. During that time, healthcare spending went from 7 percent of the economy to 17 percent.
The freshman congresswoman’s vote drew both condemnation and praise.
Republican dentist Dr. Paul Gosar, who plans to run against Kirkpatrick, criticized her vote for the healthcare reform bill as well as her opposition to a provision of the bill that would prohibit any use of federal funds to subsidize any insurance plan that covered abortions.
“Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, taxpayers should not have to bear the burden of funding abortions,” said Gosar.
House leaders accepted a provision that would prevent low- and moderate-income people from getting a promised subsidy for their health insurance premiums for plans that covered abortion. The version that has not yet passed the U.S. Senate would allow plans to segregate co-payments and premiums so people could still get abortions without using federal dollars.
Gosar said Kirkpatrick had “walked out on” the people of her district by supporting healthcare reform that would impose government mandates and new taxes on small businesses.
“She has walked out on every unemployed person by imposing new spending and taxes that will cripple job creation,” said Gosar. “Arizonans want reform, less government and lower costs — not the monstrosity this bill has become.”
However, Kirkpatrick countered that the reforms will actually benefit small businesses, by offering coverage for their employees and helping limit the upward spiral in rates. The bill also includes a tax credit for businesses that offer employee health plans. On the other hand, it would impose a new payroll tax on businesses without an employee health plan.
“Doing nothing is not an option for our small businesses,” said Kirkpatrick. “By controlling costs, we will expand options so that each of our entrepreneurs can make the right choice for their individual circumstances.”
The Republican National Committee also attacked Kirkpatrick for her vote. The Republican alternative would reduce health care premiums and cut the deficit by $68 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional budget office. The CBO estimated the Democratic plan would cut the deficit by more than $100 billion in that time by imposing a variety of new taxes.
The Republican alternative included limits on medical malpractice awards and would allow insurance companies to sell policies across state lines. However, it would not require coverage of pre-existing conditions, penalize employers for not offering a healthcare plan and individuals for not obtaining coverage. The Republican National Committee put out a release this week saying the Republican plan “is in stark contrast to the Democrats’ government takeover of healthcare, which is nothing more than another trillion-dollar government spending spree. If Ann Kirkpatrick claims to be working on behalf of the voters of her district instead of her Washington masters, now is the time for her to step up.”
“Closing the Medicare Part D donut hole is critically important to the Medicare beneficiaries in District One,” said American Association for Retired People’s Arizona President Leonard Kirschner. “AARP Arizona applauds Congresswoman Kirkpatrick for her courageous vote for reform.”