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Toss health care law, says Rep. McMorris Rogers

SEATTLE – As Washington and other states adopt laws and adapt programs to prepare for federal health care reforms, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers argued Tuesday that may not be the best course of action.

“We need to repeal the entire law and start over,” she told a conference on health care reform sponsored by a conservative think tank, the Washington Policy Center.

The Eastern Washington Republican backs proposals by her party to allow health insurance to be sold across state lines, limit malpractice lawsuits, encourage healthier lifestyles and give states more flexibility on Medicaid programs. She voted with other members of the House GOP to repeal what’s formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a fact that earned her applause from a room full of health care professionals and insurance industry representatives.

More than a year after the law passed, it remains unpopular with a majority of Americans in survey after survey, she said. But McMorris Rodgers supports a plan to revamp Medicare, crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that, too, remains unpopular in public opinion surveys.

“Then let’s at least have a discussion about Medicare,” McMorris Rodgers said when asked if the same logic should apply to both unpopular plans. “We’re waiting for the Senate and the president to come up with their proposals. It’s important to have a debate, to put ideas on the table.”

When House Republicans met recently with President Barack Obama on the budget and increasing the debt ceiling, McMorris Rodgers asked him to stop calling the Ryan plan a “voucher system.” It is, Republicans said, an opportunity to expand medical insurance options for those currently younger than 55 and provide “premium support” from the federal government. Those 55 and older wouldn’t see any changes.

While the terminology dispute continues, both sides agree Medicare needs major reform because the revenue coming in covers only about half the costs, she said.

Before McMorris Rodgers addressed the group of about 300, state officials and health care executives explained several changes already made in Washington to meet deadlines for health care reform.

The Legislature this year approved a health care exchange, which will allow small companies and individuals not covered by medical care at work to shop for insurance online, comparing prices and coverage.

Washington state has seen about a 50 percent increase in Medicaid clients over the last 10 years – from 800,000 to 1.2 million – but is having some success reining in prescription drug costs, said Doug Porter, director of the state Health Care Authority.

Medicaid splits the costs for patients between the state and federal governments. In 2010, the state spent $100 million less on prescription drugs than it did in 2009, even though Medicaid enrollments increased, through a series of program changes, Porter said.

It now requires a second opinion for drugs to treat certain psychiatric problems in children, makes generics the first choice over brand-name drugs, has a lower reimbursement rate, and will only pay for new brand-name drugs if they are proven to be better than drugs currently on the market, Porter said.

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