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Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Lisa Brown lay out health care philosophies at Spokane conference

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said the role of the federal government is to increase choice and competitiveness in the U.S. health care market, while Democrat Lisa Brown urged a push toward universal coverage in remarks Thursday afternoon to assembled industry heads and education experts in downtown Spokane.

The Republican congresswoman appeared via teleconference at the sixth gathering of The State of Reform, a conference that has brought together local lawmakers, health insurance executives and care providers to address critical changes in the industry. Addressing the conference on camera from Washington, D.C., McMorris Rodgers said Republicans had not adequately provided their “full vision” for health care reform in the lead-up to the unsuccessful reform bill last year that would have made sweeping changes to the Affordable Care Act.

“We did not present our American Health Care Act in a way that people could really understand,” McMorris Rodgers told DJ Wilson, a policy strategist and president of The State of Reform group. “There were different phases, and as Republicans we weren’t even pulling in the same direction.”

Brown slammed the GOP record on health care in her speech later that afternoon.

“Repeal and replace has proven to be a useful political slogan,” she told the crowd. “But not good policy. It’s not moved us forward.”

McMorris Rodgers said lawmakers may have to tackle reform of the health care system in more piecemeal ways in an effort to include lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Republicans moved quickly last summer to approve a system that Democrats, health care professionals and the independent body tasked with analyzing federal legislation all said would lead to millions nationwide losing coverage they’d gained through the health care law.

“Maybe we need to break it up, so that it would be clearer, the different aspects of what the goals are in each area of health care reform,” the congresswoman said.

Brown, who has taken aim at McMorris Rodgers for her support of the Republican health plan in advertisements supporting her candidacy for office, inched toward the type of single payer-type system several liberal lawmakers on Capitol Hill have offered as an alternative to Republican efforts to dismantle all or parts of the Affordable Care Act in the wake of rising premium costs for beneficiaries.

But in remarks after her speech, the former majority leader of the state Senate said she didn’t believe the country needed to embark on such a dramatic change in the system so quickly.

“We should be moving toward more universal care, more people being covered,” Brown said. “I think there are ways to do that that don’t disrupt people who are satisfied with their health care, or businesses who are not having major problems financing it.”

Brown gave the example of allowing people beginning at age 55 to buy into Medicare, as a public option, as a step in the right direction. Such an idea was floated after the defeat of the Republican health care bill last fall but has been languishing in committee in the U.S. Senate.

McMorris Rodgers, in an editorial in the September issue of the Black Lens newspaper, slammed such an expanded single-payer, “Medicare for all” system as “riddled with bureaucratic, government-knows-best inefficiencies which have a damaging effect on people’s lives.” In her speech to the health care conference, McMorris Rodgers instead pointed to her preferences for reform, which included a measure passed out of conference in the House of Representatives on Thursday that will allow pharmacists to tell their patients out-of-pocket costs for certain drugs are lower than an insurance co-pay.

McMorris Rodgers said she also supports the expansion of so-called association health plans, which allow multiple small businesses and self-employed workers in the same geographic area to band together to negotiate for lower health care costs. Critics warn such systems could lead to workers being stuck with a plan that doesn’t cover all the services they need.

Wilson asked McMorris Rodgers if she believed it was possible for Democrats and Republicans to work together to achieve large-scale health policy reform in Washington, D.C. Both the unsuccessful health care bill, and later the tax reform law that eliminated the individual mandate, which created a tax penalty for those who don’t obtain health insurance, could only garner GOP support in Congress. The Affordable Care Act passed Congress in 2010 without a single Republican vote.

McMorris Rodgers said bipartisanship was possible in the Congress, pointing out that 68 percent of the measures signed into law by President Donald Trump included at least one bipartisan vote.

“I think, at times, when people are so focused on the president, on the administration, on the latest tweet, that what is actually being done between the House and the Senate, and the work that we’re doing in our committees, there is, when you consider 68 percent of the bills have had bipartisan support – a 20-year high – there is a lot of work that’s being done in a bipartisan fashion,” she said.

That figure was originally reported in May by the public affairs research group Quorum.

On the big issues, however, like who will pay for America’s rising health care costs, the parties seem as divided as ever. Republicans demanded a cost analysis of Bernie Sanders’ single-payer system from the Congressional Budget Office this summer, hoping for a financial figure to tie to Democrats hoping to run for office who say they’ll support his plan. Two analyses by outside research groups have put the figure at around $32 trillion over 10 years. Sanders has highlighted that one of the reports indicates his plan – as expensive as it would be – would actually save $2 trillion in health spending.

On primary night the Republican National Committee put out a statement about Brown’s electoral performance with the tagline, “The $32 trillion question.”

Brown laughed at that figure, and Republican attempts to tie her to the investment, after her speech Thursday.

“I really don’t know,” she said. “I wouldn’t start there. I would start with, how do we shore up Medicare?”


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