U.S. Congress: Manzullo doesn’t wish his congressional health plan on anyone
By Stuart R. Wahlin, Staff Writer
Democratic federal lawmakers continue pushing for their $1.5 trillion overhaul of the nation’s health care system, asserting their proposal would essentially afford to the public the same health care enjoyed by members of Congress.
One local Republican legislator says his health care leaves much to be desired, however.
“I would not wish the government health plan on anybody,” U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) said of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) he and 8 million other federal employees are provided. “The government health care plan is less than what the IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] guys get, and it’s less than what most private insurance plans are.”
During an interview on WNTA July 17, Manzullo explained: “I pay a little over $400 a month in premium on my plan. That has no dental coverage. It has very little optical coverage. It has no orthodonture coverage.
“Under the government health care plan that we as members of Congress have, at age 22, my kids are all seniors in college, and I had to go out and get individual health care insurance,” he added. “That became extraordinarily expensive for one that has some pre-existing problems with asthma.”
According to a July 16 McClatchy Newspapers report, however, Manzullo doesn’t have it so bad.
Under the FEHBP offering, employees can decide their level of coverage from dozens of plans, premiums for which the federal government pays an average of more than 70 percent.
Brookings Institution health care expert Mark McClellan, a medical doctor and economist, determined, “The federal employee plan is more generous than coverage most people have in the private sector.
“It’s probably similar to coverage that people in large established corporations get, and better than what you get if you’re in a small business,” McClellan added. “It’s not the crème-de-la-crème, but it’s better than what most Americans are getting.”
The article also noted lawmakers are able to seek care at military hospitals, and that for a $503 annual fee, they can receive treatment at the Office of the Attending Physician’s $2.5 million facility near the Capitol.
Manzullo indicated there’s nothing about the Democrats’ plan he likes.
“It assumes that the government knows how to deliver health care services, as opposed to your individual physician,” Manzullo said. “This is a disaster. We have a broken health care system. Everybody agrees on that. Where we disagree is the fact that…the patient and the physician should be making the medical decisions, as opposed to a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
“The bureaucrats, under this proposal, can tell your physician to stop seeing patients with private health insurance as a condition of participation in the government-run health plan,” he added. “This is really scary.”
While Manzullo and fellow Republicans are steadfast against the Democratic proposal, Democrats are accusing Republicans of fear mongering.
During a July 16 House committee meeting, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) argued, “The notion that, somehow, what we’re doing is scary and gonna hurt people by offering exactly what members of Congress today are entitled to, and giving a public option, which men and women who wear the uniform of this country presently are allowed to have, is hogwash.
“What we are doing is using tried-and-true methods and systems and market principles to spread risk, and to eliminate the harshness that presently exists today for people who are out in that private health insurance marketplace by themselves,” Courtney asserted. “At the end of the day, members, when we vote on health care reform, in my opinion, have to be able to look the people of this country in the eye—who pay for our health insurance benefits—and be able to say, ‘What we are providing is as good as what you pay for members of Congress.’ This legislation does that. It eliminates pre-existing conditions, it spreads risk across a wide pool, and it will provide affordable, real choice to individuals that today, because of the completely out-of-control, unregulated health insurance market, they are denied.”
But Manzullo and Republican colleagues still aren’t buying it.
Because businesses with annual payrolls of $250,000 or more would be mandated to offer insurance to full-time employees, Manzullo argued the Democratic proposal would also be a job-killer.
Twenty percent of the respondents to take a recent National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey indicated they would be forced to close their business if faced with the additional cost of offering insurance. Twenty-five percent said they’d simply circumvent the mandate by replacing full-time workers with part-timers.
“One study showed that if you have this mandate upon small businesses to buy this insurance, that we would lose between 4 and 5 million jobs, because the little guys will simply go out of business,” Manzullo indicated, noting 17 million Americans would remain uninsured under the Democrats’ proposal.
Instead, Manzullo said he prefers an associated health plan, which would negotiate group rates and spread risk.
“That allows small businesses to join together, the same way as unions do, to form a purchasing group so they can buy health and accident insurance on a mass scale, as opposed to each employer going in and being raided,” he explained. “Because so many people would be in the pool, you wouldn’t have to worry about pre-existing illnesses.”
from the July 22-28, 2009, issue
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