Leader Blues

Friday, November 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Lincoln upbeat on reform in visit

Leader senior staff writer

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, at the center of the current storm over health-care reform in the U.S. Senate, Thursday toured the Lonoke Exceptional School and Remington Arms with a Los Angles Times reporter in tow.

Political writer Mark Z. Barabak last tailed Maine Sen. Olympia Snow, who is also a key player the Senate’s health-care debate.

Lincoln, who faces reelection challenges amid declining poll numbers, toured the school, speaking with board members, staff and school clients, young and adult. She asked Exceptional School Director Janie Sexton questions about funding and services available to the center and its clients.

Later she discussed the health-care issue en route to Remington.

“I think health-care reform is something we can do,” she said. “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has glued together a plan.

We don’t know what the bill is. We need time to look at the Congressional Budget Office’s cost analysis.”

As she has throughout the debate, Lincoln said there were alternatives to the public option when it comes to getting people covered by health insurance, making insurance companies more accountable and holding down costs.

She said there were 500,000 uninsured Arkansans, including about 77,000 children, of whom about two-thirds should be eligible for ARKids First.

She said she wanted to fully use existing resources such as Medicare and Medicaid “as opposed to recreating the wheel.”

“My worry is that a public option would be putting (the taxpayer) at risk,” she said.

“I think you can create in the market- place nonprofit co-ops and a nationwide plan — allow states to form compacts,” she said.

“I think competition is the key. There is a risk of too much of an advantage for insurance companies to put less healthy people into a public option.”

Lincoln, who met with former President Bill Clinton about health care last week, quoted him as saying “this is a process. You’re not going to solve everything overnight. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Congressman Marion Berry and Congressman Vic Snyder supported the House version of the health-care bill, which passed 220 to 215 last week. Congressmen Mike Ross and John Boozman did not. Berry, Snyder and Ross are Democrats, Boozman is a Republican.

Berry explained his vote Thursday saying, “The United States, as a people, spends twice as much on health care as any other country and our outcomes are about 37th (in the world).

“A child born in Cuba today has a better life expectancy than a child born in America. (We’re) not getting our money’s worth.

We can’t possibly compete (worldwide) with twice as much health-care expenses as any other county.”

Berry said he wanted to make sure that everyone legally in the U.S. has health insurance. That would lead to more timely diagnosis and treatment, and reduce the cost.

“I was in the Clinton White House in 1993 and went through the same exercise. Not quite as volatile.”

Berry said that while there were a lot of things in the bill that he didn’t like, “When you vote (down) a bill you lose the ability to have any more input into it. This is not the time to give up. That would have been the end of it and we would wait another 16 or 17 years, it’s such a toxic political issue.

“I think we’ll get (a health-care bill) and I think we’ll get it before Christmas,” Berry said. “It’s a test for the Senate and for Harry Reid, our leader. It’s a difficult time to be in the Senate.”