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Debating Health Care Reform

Carla Peay | 8/12/2009, 12:01 p.m.

Tristen Blue doesn€t eat; she is fed through a G-tube. She has had three major heart surgeries so her upper and lower extremities and her internal organs can get the blood flow needed to sustain her life. Born with a congenital heart condition, she has only two chambers in her heart instead of four, and will need special care for the rest of her life. Tristen is five-years-old.

€I drove here from Baltimore so that Congresswoman Edwards could hear my story,€ said Gloria Blue, 40, Tristan€s mother.

Blue was among the approximately 400 people who attended a town hall meeting on health care reform held by Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-District 4) on Thu., Aug. 6 at the Oxon Hill Library.

€A lot of times people don€t hear the small voices. I pay out of pocket costs, about $1,000 every month, for my daughter in addition to the health care I have. My health insurance does not cover things like her medical equipment,€ Blue said.

Both Blue and her husband have to work more than one job to pay for all the things their insurance company does not cover, which includes Tristen€s food.

€I have written letters to my insurance company to try and get them to cover it, but the answer that they give me is that it€s not medically necessary. This is her only nutrition. I can€t let my child starve.€

Blue€s battle with her insurance company is a common story, and one of the issues Edwards addressed during her presentation and question and answer session regarding the health care reform legislation that is currently before Congress.

€We had a great turnout, and there were a lot of differing views in the room, but the important thing is to hear it out, and to let people know where I€m coming from. We know that passions are really high surrounding this issue, because each of us feels the health care system in a very different way,€ Edwards said.

Despite the highly publicized outbursts of health care reform opponents that have been breaking out across the county at town hall meetings, Edwards stressed the importance of civility during the meeting, and there were no incidents during the forum.

€We have to keep the tension and the tempers down because otherwise, I think it makes it really complicated to have an informed and productive discussion,€ Edwards said.

In addition to stories like Blue€s, citizens spoke of struggles with their insurance companies, of losing jobs and coverage and of being unable to afford health care. Likewise, there were members of the audience who were opposed to health care reform, or specifically, the bill that is currently before Congress, an approximately 1,000 page document that is available on-line at various Web sites, including Edwards€.

One such opponent was Mykel Harris, chair for Republican Central Committee for Prince George€s County.

€The primary concern I have about the bill is that it doesn€t work. By their own admission, it costs a trillion dollars. What she [Edwards] said is that it was going to be paid for with 1.2 percent charge on people who make over $500,000. The Congressional budget office says that there is not enough money in the millionaire€s tax to pay for this,€ Harris said.

But Harris did not articulate any specific details of a Republican alternative to the current heath care reform bill.

€I can€t tell you the details of it since I€m not in Congress, but I can tell you some of the things that have been proposed by both Democrats and Republicans in the past €" to put it on a market basis to allow you to own your own insurance program,€ said Harris, who supports a plan that would allow insurance companies from across the country to compete in Maryland, as well as other states. Harris also stressed the importance of Tort Reform, which he said is not in the current bill.

€One of the things they€re going to do to pay for it is to basically shove the Medicare costs back down to the states, so they achieve their savings by forcing Maryland to pay more. The bill is entitled the Affordable Health Care Act. Where is the affordability?€ Harris asked.

But Edwards€ stressed her belief that the U.S. cannot afford not to pass health care reform.

€It€s really clear that the system that we have now for millions of Americans is really unsustainable and unaffordable, and that if you€re not caught in a bind right now, I€ll give you a year, two years, 10 years €" you will be.€

Edwards also has a message for her fellow Democrats, the so-called Blue Dogs, which make up the more conservative element of the Democratic members of Congress, many of whom are opposed to the current health care reform bill.

€To my colleagues in Congress, I€d love to bring them out here to hear how people really are clamoring for us to do the right thing when it comes to their health care.€

Edwards told the crowd not to listen to the €talking heads,€ but to become informed consumers.

€There are ways to find information that will get you the answers that you need without relying on somebody else interpreting for you what this will mean in your life and to your family and for your health care coverage.€

The full legislation is posted on Edwards€ Web site at www.donnaedwards.house.gov. The bill can be found by searching Affordable Health Care Act of 2009.