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Rep. Carol Shea-Porter thanked, and spanked, for health reform bill

A THRONG surrounds U.S. Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter following a town hall meeting at Ossipee Town Hall on April 7. - Photo by Daymond Steer, Staff (click for larger version)
April 15, 2010
OSSIPEE — U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) was quizzed on everything from healthcare reform to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan at a town hall meeting on April 7.

Those who packed Ossipee Town Hall's gym were awarded the opportunity to ask questions through a raffle. The same system was used at a recent town hall forum in Alton.

Most of the questions for the two-term Democrat from the First Congressional District were about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (HR 3590) that President Barack Obama signed into law on March 23. Shea-Porter, a supporter of HR 3590, is up for re-election in November. She faces an uphill battle in this area of the state based on the reaction from most forum attendees.

The first questioner, a skeptical older man, got thunderous applause when he asked why many benefits of the bill don't start for about five years and several other questions.

"Why doesn't Congress pass a bill they have to follow," asked the man while raising his voice. "They get a pay raise and Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security didn't get anything."

Shea-Porter replied the man was operating under some misconceptions. Congress is not getting a raise and members of Congress will be under the same health care exchange system that was set up for the American people.

Some of the changes don't begin soon because it will take some time for insurance companies to adapt. The goal of the bill is to insure everybody while driving the cost of healthcare down. Treating uninsured people drives up medical costs for those who do have insurance, she explained. The reforms will improve Medicaid Medicare and the Veteran's Affairs insurance programs. For example, there will be free preventative care under Medicare.

But several people wondered about the insurance mandate in the bill.

She stressed several times that there aren't criminal penalties for not having insurance. Rather, the penalties are civil. The fine for not having insurance will increase over time. The fines will max out at $665 or 2 percent of your personal income which ever is greater.

The most dramatic moment of the night occurred when Tom Fraser, of West Ossipee, took to the microphone to confront the Congresswoman. Fraser charged that the bill states that illegal immigrants would be given healthcare and that it would give the government access to people's bank accounts. A police officer had to tell Fraser to calm down during the exchange.

Fraser, a grandfather of 15 children, said he raised eight children without help of the government. Although his four year old grandson died because of an insurance issue, Fraser said he still believes that health insurance is not an entitlement.

"You disgust me with the way you people operate and the way you're selling this country out with the special deals," said Fraser bellowed to loud applause. "You people have a lot of explaining to do."

Shea-Porter replied that she respects his opinion that the government has no role in insurance. However, she believes that people in society have an obligation to take care of each other.

In a follow up interview, an aid clarified that the healthcare package does not provide coverage for illegal immigrants and that the claim about the government having access to bank accounts was also incorrect. However, the bill does allow the secretary of the Health and Human Services Department to create standards for an automatic bill pay system.

Not everyone was so negative. Some thanked her for voting for healthcare reform. Others just had questions.

A man from Wolfeboro ran with Shea-Porter's point that Americans are paying more for healthcare than other countries' citizens but are getting worse outcomes. He said he was embarrassed that the United States has been doing so poorly when it comes to taking care of its people's health.

"Where is our national pride?" he asked.

Several people, including, Peggy Merritt, of Sandwich, asked what unemployed people supposed to do about health insurance. Residents were also curious about where the money would come from to pay for all the benefits.

Shea-Porter replied that those living at up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level would be covered through Medicare. Then she gave an example of how much a person making $22,200 per year would save with reform as opposed to the status quo. Without reform, such a person would pay about $218 per week in premiums. With the reform the person's premium would be as low as $10 per week. A family of four earning under $88,000 will get subsidies for health insurance, she said.

"It's not true that we're forcing people to have insurance without helping them get insurance," said Shea-Porter.

Under the new law, insurance companies will not be allowed to exclude people because of preexisting conditions. Children will not be excluded for preexisting conditions in September. That benefit will be extended to all people in 2014.

With the old system, those who get dropped from insurance would have limited options on the open market. Seniors or people with preexisting conditions may not have had any options.

"People on the way to surgery get the go ahead from the insurance company, but they forgot to report they had acne when they were 19, or some small condition, so their policy was rescinded on the way to surgery," said Shea-Porter of the system she claimed the bill would fix. "I don't think any of us like to see bake sales for a kidney or for a child who needs chemo."

Under the bill, states will set up exchanges, which she described as a marketplace for insurance. Those who can't afford insurance can get a subsidy, which is like having a grocery coupon. Small businesses can pool together and get the same deal as large employers. A high-risk pool would be set up for people with preexisting conditions.

Much time was spent explaining the benefits of the health bill for young people and their parents. Right now, about a third of young people don't have health insurance. Some don't want it and others just can't afford it. Shea-Porter said this bill allows young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents' insurance plans. This section of the health bill will go into effect in September (six months after the March 23 enactment).

Another woman pointed that the cost of the healthcare bill is supposed to be paid for mostly by catching waste, fraud, and abuse (plus a tax on the top two percent of earners). She wondered why the government couldn't just fix those problems before overhauling the entire system. The woman said she wouldn't vote for Shea-Porter again because of her "frustration."

Shea-Porter replied, "The system is falling apart. We had to help small business while they are able to offer insurance."

She also stressed that the health plan is fully paid for according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. If the system were allowed to stay the same, healthcare costs would continue to rise. One reason is when long-time uninsured people and enter Medicare they are expensive to treat because it's likely they wouldn't have seen a doctor while uninsured.

Effingham resident Mike Cauble was among the minority of residents who thanked her for supporting healthcare reform. But the bulk of his statement was about the economy. He wondered if there was any possibility of having a moral financial system in this country.

"Like a lot of people in this room, in 2008 I really took a bath with my pension because of the immoral actions of the bankers on Wall Street."

Shea-Porter replied that because of lack of financial regulation the county hemorrhaged 750,000 jobs between the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. Back then there was a real fear of a second Great Depression. This March is the first time the country has began adding jobs.

"I really think Wall Street almost destroyed Main Street," said Shea-Porter who said she voted against three bank bailouts. Two of the bailouts were purposed during the Bush Administration and the other was proposed during the Obama Administration.

Shea-Porter said she's an original cosponsor of the Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act, which would charge an excise tax on some Wall Street transactions. Half the revenue would go towards fixing highways and bridges and the other half would go to cutting the deficit.

However, Shea-Porter said she did vote for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act because air needed to be pumped into the economy. She also called for a consumer finance protection agency to make sure Wall Street banks don't cause trouble again. She got big claps when she said she didn't take money from lobbyists.

As for the national debt, she said that has 15-20 different causes. Shea-Porter said she was a co-sponsor of legislation to create a bipartisan debt reduction committee. However, the bill died when seven Senators dropped their support when they found out Obama was backing it. Now, the president has created his own debt commission.

"Owing money to China is like a parent borrowing from a teen," said Shea-Porter. "It's hard to hold your moral authority when you do that."

Another man pointed out that the government is in debt somewhere between $64 trillion and $72 trillion because of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

"Our country is bankrupt, we have no money," he said.

Shea-Porter said Obama inherited the biggest deficit in history from President George W. Bush and she acted on the advice of economists and the Congressional Budget Office when she voted for the stimulus and healthcare. She also said it was "crazy" for Bush to give the top 1 percent of the population a tax cut when the country was fighting two wars.

As for trade agreements, Shea-Porter said she's pushing for fair trade so America doesn't lose more jobs overseas.

A woman, who described her self as a moderator of a local community, asked Shea-Porter about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The woman said some of the behavior the Congresswoman observed at the forum would never be allowed at her town meeting.

Shea-Porter, who is on the armed services committee, said she's been to both countries. She supports the war in Afghanistan, but thinks America needs a lighter footprint in that county than the President wants. She also said American forces need to make stronger ties with the Afghanistan's residents. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzi's threat to join the Taliban was outrageous, she said.

As for Iraq that's a different story, said Shea-Porter. She said everyone knows now that Iraq was not connected to the attacks of Sept. 11 and did not possess weapons of mass destruction when America invaded. America is now heading out of Iraq and that was based on a plan approved by the Bush Administration. Both war efforts have been rife with waste and fraud, said Shea-Porter noting that there are more contractors in Afghanistan than soldiers.

"What's wrong with that picture," Shea-Porter asked.

A mother of a soldier in Afghanistan asked if she was doing anything in regards to burn pits (American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan use these pits to dispose of waste). The fumes from these burn pits have been cited as the reason soldiers are suffering from various ailments, she said.

The secretary of defense is required to close as many burn pits as possible and report reasons to congress why some cannot be closed. This year, congress members are pushing for a registry so returning veterans won't have to work as hard to prove they were in close proximity to burn pits. Further, she encouraged veterans and their families to visit a Web site that asks for stories pertaining to burn pits and related sicknesses.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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