11/12/09 — Congressman visits local vets, talks about health care reform

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Congressman visits local vets, talks about health care reform

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 12, 2009 1:46 PM

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North Carolina Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield, right, greets Vietnam veteran Edward Lewis during a veterans-only town hall-style meeting at Wilber's Barbecue in Goldsboro Wednesday.

Veterans quizzed 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield Wednesday on the proposed federal health care plan and how it would affect them during a stop he made at Wilber's Barbecue.

Butterfield came to pay tribute to the men and women who serve in the armed forces.

But while he came to thank them for their service and valor, he also used his time to try to rally support for the Democratic health care bill he voted for.

The congressman also sought to assure veterans that their Tricare coverage would not change. However, if a veteran decides he or she wants more coverage, they could then elect to use the "health insurance exchange" created by the bill in which they could pay for more coverage, he said.

He used for an example a family of four making $33,000 or less a year who would receive free health care and would qualify automatically for Medicaid. For those making above $88,000, the government would not help buy insurance.

"But if you are between $33,000 and $88,000, the government will help you acquire insurance," he said. "If you are at the low end of the $33,000, you will pay 3 percent of your salary to get insurance. If you are on the high end, you will be pay 12 percent.

"Under this plan veterans will be able to keep their veterans' care, Tricare, or they can choose to go to the exchange and purchase insurance and the government will help them purchase the insurance. It adds a benefit. It does not take away a benefit."

"They are free now, why should we pay?" one veteran asked.

"You don't have to, it is an option," Butterfield replied.

Butterfield, himself a veteran, said that often services for veterans go overlooked, something that voters and elected representatives must ensure does not happen.

"Veterans Day gives all of us an opportunity to remember the service and high sacrifice of those who have worn that uniform," he said. "To the veterans here today, we want to say thank you for your service, thank you for your character and your strength and the enduring power of your example. All of you are patriots, one and all. Every American, without question, owes you a debt of gratitude.

"As Americans we made a simple, yet sacred promise to our veterans ,you have taken care of us and now we will take care of you."

Leroy Johnson of Dudley who served in the peacetime military and Vietnam veteran Alton Hill of Snow Hill said they enjoyed Butterfield's comments.

Both said they support the reform and were interested in comments on veterans' benefits.

Hill likes the idea of the government competing with the insurance companies in an attempt to lower premiums.

Fred Clary, who served in the Army and Air Force for 30 years, remained unconvinced, and questioned Butterfield about the plan.

"I am opposed to the government controlling health care," Clary said in an interview. "They promised us a flu shot the first of October. Here it is middle of November and we still haven't got it. Are they going do the health program the same way as that?

"It takes me two months get an appointment and most doctors now say they won't take any more Medicare patients. You know they are not going to take patients under government control. I think the government should stay out of the health program. I don't want anybody in Washington telling me when I need an X-ray."

Politicians "talk a good game," but fail to follow through once they reach Washington, D.C., he said.

"Now, 55 percent of the people in N.C. do not want the government health program," Clary said. "He voted for it. Is he representing the people of N.C. or is he going along with Obama?

Butterfield said the reaction to the public health option mirrors what he is hearing elsewhere.

"In my district it has been divided," he said in an interview. "It seems that those who have good insurance are opposed to reform for various reasons and those who don't have insurance think it is a wonderful thing. It (public option) is a wonderful concept. It is simply an insurance plan that is sponsored by the government that is intended to compete with private insurance companies.

"If we do not rein in the cost of insurance, none of us will be able to afford it in the next 10 years. Either the insurance companies have to voluntarily reduce their premiums, that is not going to happen, or we have to create competition to force insurance companies to provide for affordable insurance. That is what the public option is all about."

Butterfield said he understands the argument that it is unfair for government to compete with private companies, but that the nation has to get health care under control.

"We cannot give insurance companies a license to charge what they want to charge," he said. "People think it (plan) will be a financial burden on government, but we have tried to convince public it will be paid for.

"The millionaires are going to have to pay for it. We are going to impose a 5.4 percent surcharge on millionaires on adjusted gross income in excess of a million dollars. Why shouldn't a millionaire contribute to improving the health care system in America?"

The remainder of the cost would be paid for through Medicare savings efficiencies, he said.

The Senate version would tax insurance benefits, a proposal Butterfield opposes.

Butterfield said that insurance companies cite the increasing cost of doing business and lawsuits as the reasons premiums increase.

"Health care is complicated subject that requires much time to do it justice, he said. "Every president over the past 50 years in one way or another has tried to reform health care and all of them have failed.

"The health care delivery system we have is inefficient. It pays by volume and not for results. As the result of that our Medicare system is very expensive and the projections are if we do not changes Medicare is going to be unsustainable. We have to make Medicare more efficient."

A second problem is that insurance companies are increasing premiums on average about $1,800 per year, Butterfield said. Somebody is paying for it, either the company or the employee, he said.