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Political battle looms over healthcare reform

AHOSKIE – It is, by far, the most spirited debate within the realm of government reform.

When members of the United States Congress return to work today (Tuesday) after a late-summer break, battle lines will again be drawn over healthcare reform. Confirmed as a proponent of reform is Congressman G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat representing North Carolina’s First District, a broad region that includes the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Speaking at a Sept. 3 luncheon held at Roanoke-Chowan Community College, Representative Butterfield said he stands with President Obama in regards to healthcare reform. That issue has sparked a surge in lobbying tactics, aimed at members of Congress. Opposition rallies are making headlines throughout the nation; millions are being spent on television advertising.

“Anytime you seek change there will be opposition,” Butterfield told the crowd that filled the Freeland Building Community Room. “We expected an honest and open debate on the fundamental issues of this reform. We didn’t get that. Instead, the opposition is waging a campaign of misinformation, a deliberate campaign of lies and deception.”

Butterfield recently hosted a debate in Rocky Mount on healthcare reform. He noted the same line of opposition found by his congressional colleagues throughout the country.

“This opposition is well-financed and well-planned out,” he noted. “The questions and statements are the same.”

However, Butterfield is adamant that healthcare reform must occur.

“Our healthcare delivery system is broken,” the Congressman said. “As Americans, we’re spending twice as much on healthcare than any other country in the world, but yet our healthcare outcome ranks much lower.”

Part of the problem, Butterfield said, is runaway Medicare spending.

“We’ve got to get this under control or it will bankrupt our nation within the next 10 years,” he stressed.

Healthcare reform will not be an easy task, Butterfield said. He alluded to an estimated population of 300 million Americans. Of those, he said 50 million are without any form of medical insurance, including one of every six individuals residing in the First Congressional District. Seventy-five million are under the umbrella of government sponsored healthcare (Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran’s Administration, etc.). He said the remaining 175 million have health insurance, the majority of which comes through their place of employment.

“What you have now is not what it use to be for you or your employers,” the Congressman said. “You are paying more and more out-of-pocket and receiving less services.”

He added, “Many individuals think they have a Cadillac insurance policy when actually all they have is a Model-T version. Even with insurance, if you go to the hospital for a major medical procedure it could bankrupt you.”

To pay for this reform, Butterfield said Congress will closely study two revenue streams – one, the reorganization of Medicare to the point of realizing $500 billion in savings; and, two, impose a surcharge on the nation’s wealthiest citizens (those with annual incomes of $250,000 or more).

Those two revenue pools will generate the $1 trillion needed to overhaul the current healthcare system. Butterfield said, if necessary, a higher tax will be imposed on insurance companies.

“These bigger insurance companies are enjoying windfall profits,” he noted. “I’m not against any company making a profit, but not at the rate enjoyed by many of the bigger insurance companies.”

If the reform is approved, there will be a Health Insurance Exchange created by 2013. In that marketplace, insurance companies will place their services and a price. The United States government will also have an available insurance option.

“Ours will be cheaper because we don’t have to pay the high salaries received by the CEOs of insurance companies,” Butterfield observed. “Our cheaper version will hopefully create more competitive rates among the insurance companies.”

President Obama’s plan calls for the government-option insurance plan to be free for a family of four whose annual income is less than $29,000. Those making between $29,000 and $88,000 annually will pay for the government insurance, but with assistance. Butterfield said those on the lower end of that pay scale will pay three percent of their annual income for insurance. The higher end of the scale will pay 12 percent.

“If you make more than $88,000 a year, you’re on your own,” he stated.

The Congressman stressed that every American will be required to have medical insurance. If a person refuses to take part, they will be assessed a 2.5 percent penalty based on their annual income.

All employers with a gross payroll of at least $500,000 must provide medical insurance for their employees.

Now the great debate begins within the halls of Congress and Butterfield knows that every vote is critical. He said there are 435 members of Congress, meaning that any new legislation must have at least 218 votes to gain approval.

“We are very aware that no Republican congressmen are going to vote with us on this,” Butterfield said. “That means of the 257 Democrats in Congress, we have to find 218 votes.”

Despite having a Democrat in the White House, Butterfield said finding those votes remains a challenge.

“The opposition to healthcare reform wants to divide the Democrats and defeat this measure,” he concluded. “The offices of my Democratic colleagues have been picketed during our break. How much damage has been done? I guess we’ll find out after Labor Day when we return to Washington. Hopefully we can work out a compromise with the moderate Democrats and the Republicans and have a bi-partisan bill in place by the end of the year.”