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Proposed care reforms elicit fears, support aired at Colville meetings

COLVILLE – Some Eastern Washington residents at a pair of town hall meetings Wednesday said they don’t trust the government to run their health care in the future. Others said they don’t trust the big insurance companies to run it now.

Some told Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers they were afraid they might lose services if Congress passes a historic health care reform plan. Others said they were angry about the services they can’t have or the drugs they can’t get under their current plans.

Like at meetings across the country, health care reform sparked strong emotions at two afternoon events attended by McMorris Rodgers in Colville. Unlike some meetings – where members of Congress have been shouted down or threatened – McMorris Rodgers’ crowds were mostly polite and respectful.

They didn’t let her off easy, though. The three-term Republican congresswoman was asked about her own government medical insurance and whether she’s taken campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies.

“Why can’t all of us have the same insurance plan you have?” was the first question she fielded at her noon event at Colville City Park in front of about 100 people. A variation was the second question at her mid-afternoon meeting that filled the Northeastern Washington Ag Center to overflowing with more than 500 people.

McMorris Rodgers said she has the same health care options as any federal employee, although she conceded her Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan allows her and her 2-year-old son Cole more access to doctors than Tri-Care, the government program her husband, Brian, has as a retired Navy pilot.

They switched Cole to her plan after his pediatrician said he wasn’t taking new Tri-Care patients, she added.

She pays about $400 a month for her plan, “which sounds like a good deal, I know,” she added.

McMorris Rodgers said she has received contributions from the medical industry; she didn’t know the total but offered to have staffers check. The Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, estimates she’s received more than $268,000 in contributions from the health industry out of about $4 million in total contributions for three campaigns.

As a member of a House committee reviewing the health care reform package, McMorris Rodgers voted against the proposal in committee. She said she has serious concerns about some provisions, including mandates for many employers to offer health insurance and for individuals to buy insurance. She doesn’t support provisions for a government-run plan that competes with private insurance plans.

Some people attending the events cheered any criticism of the government, while others defended the cost and quality of government-run medical services.

McMorris Rodgers agreed that the Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, does have low rates for some drugs because it buys in bulk. But, she said, “If you want to get a prescription drug not on the list, you’re out of luck.”

The current bill is vague, she added. Contrary to some reports, it includes no “death panel” that decides whether patients get to live; it does not encourage euthanasia, she said. But the proposal would set up a commission to review medical plans and give the head of that body wide authority, and giving that much power to bureaucrats makes her nervous, she said.

“If you leave this in the hands of the big insurance companies, you already have a bureaucrat deciding things,” one participant said.

“I don’t want big insurance companies or big government telling me what’s best for my son,” McMorris Rodgers said later.

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