08/25/09 — Sen. Hagan: Health care reform cost a concern

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Sen. Hagan: Health care reform cost a concern

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 25, 2009 1:46 PM

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Sen. Kay Hagan, right, greets Wayne County school board member George Moye during a stop at Wilber's Barbecue Monday afternoon in Goldsboro.

Visiting Wilber's Barbecue in Goldsboro Monday, Sen. Kay Hagan outlined for a group of elected officials the basic framework she believes an eventual health care reform bill will take.

However, she acknowledged that paying for such an effort will be a tall order -- and that she is not sure how that will be done.

At its core, she said she expects health care reform to stabilize costs, require coverage for pre-existing conditions, provide ways for those people currently not covered to get health insurance and to be deficit neutral.

She explained that cost stabilization would come through efforts to reduce fraud and abuse in the health care system, as well as from savings realized by a greater focus on preventive medicine and the increased use of information technology.

"We've got to have information technology. That will save a lot of the fraud and abuse," she said, noting the $19 billion set aside in the stimulus bill to pay for the implementation of such systems over the next five years.

She also noted her work on a bill, The Rural Physician Pipeline Act, to increase the number of family physicians working in rural areas.

However, when questioned by audience members Wayne County Board of Education member George Moye, Wayne County Commissioner Jack Best and Goldsboro City Councilman Chuck Allen about the possibility of tort reform -- one of the biggest culprits of rising health care costs, they said -- Mrs. Hagan sidestepped actually commenting on the issue.

"I'm definitely hearing about that from a number of people," she said, adding later, "I think that is definitely something the (Senate) Judiciary Committee will be looking at."

Another issue brought up by Best and Allen was the current inability of small businesses in North Carolina to shop around for health insurance from multiple providers.

"There's just not a lot of choices out there," Allen said.

But again, Mrs. Hagan sidestepped the issue, throwing it back to the states and state insurance commissioners, saying only that Congress was hoping to include some sort of tax credits for employers offering insurance.

In terms of expanding coverage, Mrs. Hagan noted that currently there are approximately 47 million people in the United States without health insurance, and that the goal of reform is to make it feasible for them to purchase coverage -- possibly with the help of subsidies in some cases.

"I don't think going to the emergency room is affordable health care," she said.

She also said that if people are pleased with the coverage they have, then she wants to make sure the government "doesn't do anything to it," and that if people change or lose their jobs, they don't have to worry about losing that insurance.

However, she continued, the key is going to be figuring out how to pay for all of this.

"That's the question I've been asking," she said. "We don't have the information as to how we're going to pay for this, and when we get back after recess, that's one of the things you're going to hear about every night on T.V."

And while she declined to speculate as to what form the financial side of the bill might take, she did acknowledge that some sort of revenue package would be necessary.

"I'm going to wait and see what the Finance Committee come up with. This has got to be deficit neutral," she said.

But, she continued, with health care costs rising 98 percent from 2000 to 2008, "inaction is not an option. People can't continue to pay these premiums. We've got to stabilize costs, make sure insurance companies don't cherry pick who they cover, and I want to make sure those people who don't have coverage, get it.

"I think we will have some sort of health reform at the end of the day."

Mrs. Hagan also briefly discussed the federal economic stimulus package Monday, saying that she believes it is working, with approximately $8.6 billion coming to North Carolina and about $47.8 million coming to Wayne County through funding streams such as community block grants, public housing, education, food stamps, transportation and Social Security Insurance.

"I wish I had a magic bullet. I think things are turning around," she said. "That is a significant amount of money coming into our state."

She also heard concerns from those in the crowd, ranging from requests for federal help on the U.S. 70 bypass through eastern North Carolina, to more attention on mental health issues, especially as they relate to veterans returning home from war.