Dan Lungren (R-Calif.)
Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-The massive health care overhaul the House of Representatives recently approved will cost the nation jobs and more money than Democrats are willing to admit, U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., said Thursday.
"If someone was trying to sell a car the way they're trying to sell this bill they would be violating the Lemon Law," said Lungren, warning that the bill could cost more than 1.6 million jobs, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.
Lungren also decried the way he said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., forced a vote on the plan, which passed the House narrowly Saturday.
The 2,000 page plan, which would fundamentally change the way the nation's medical insurance companies do business, passed the House on a 220-215 vote, with the support of just one Republican and opposition from 39 Democrats.
Speaking at a constituent town hall meeting, Lungren said there are definite problems with the nation's health care system.
"We need to do something about costs. Costs are rising every year faster than any other measure in our economy. There is a problem with access to health care by a certain percentage of the American people," Lungren said. "The question is: How do you approach it? Do you have a humongous bill that has within it the overturning of the health care system we have or do you make some -- what I call strategic or surgical -- changes in the overall system to work on what is good and change those imperfections that are in it?"
Democrats forgo legal reforms
Democrats, who control the House by a wide margin, have eschewed tort reform as a way to reduce skyrocketing health care costs, Lungren said. He and other House Republicans had suggested a cap on punitive damages and narrowing the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.
Instead, the bill approved by the House would allow the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to give grants to states that overhaul their medical malpractice systems so long as their reforms don't in any way limit attorneys' fees or impose caps on damages.
"We would not be able to participate" in California, said Lungren, who previously served as state attorney general, from 1991 to 1999, noting that California limits noneconomic damages awards at $250,000, and imposes a shifting cap on attorneys fees by way of the state's 34-year-old Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act.
The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, has said as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next 10 years if Congress enacts legal reforms including a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.
The House bill, weighing about 20 pounds, would extend coverage to about 36 million uninsured Americans, bar insurers from denying coverage and prohibit the insurance industry from charging higher premiums to consumers with a preexisting condition.
The bill contains also a public insurance option, which proponents say is aimed at injecting more competition into the marketplace. Under the legislation, the insurance industry would lose its exemption from federal antitrust restrictions on market allocation and price fixing.
In all, the House bill contains 3,425 mandates woven into it, Lungren said.
He noted that the bill was passed just after the federal government announced that the national unemployment rate had topped 10 percent in October. He said lawmakers' efforts should be on economic development rather than overhauling the best health care system in the world.
"I happen to think that our first objective should be creating jobs in this country," he said.
In the original health care bill proposed early this summer, 53 new boards, programs and commissions would have been created. The final bill had 111 of them.
The $1.05 trillion bill, he said, also contains $224 billion in "hidden expenditures," referring to the so-called doc fix which will prevent doctors caring for Medicare patients from having their federal payments slashed.
He said nobody is proposing that Congress not adjust Medicare reimbursement rates so physicians don't face deep annual pay cuts, but Democrats have placed the legislation in a separate bill so to reduce the health bill's price tag.
Passage was uphill
Lungren said that the Democratic leadership did not have the votes needed pass the bill in June, July, after the August recess or in September or October. He said the leadership under Pelosi was pushing for a vote just as soon as the votes were there, possibly keeping lawmakers in Washington this week if they had to do so.
"They knew if we came home and had town hall meetings that there would be enough concern expressed in our town hall meetings to enough members of Congress that they could not pass the bill," Lungren said. "It is ironic that they are afraid for us to come home and talk to our constituents before we are faced with the bill, and I think that is a real problem."
The Democratic leadership, he said, is still playing hardball with House members, already warning that they might have to be in Washington the first part of Christmas week to approve a conference committee health care bill that can be sent to the president's desk.
"They are trying to squeeze members so that they just might say 'uncle' and vote for it," Lungren said.
The House-approved plan and the one that is expected to be passed in the Senate will be merged in conference committee before a final bill goes to President Barack Obama, who has made health care reform the cornerstone of his domestic policy agenda.
Many Democratic senators have expressed concerns about the House-approved bill.
"It is not inevitable that this plan becomes law," Lungren said of the House plan. "It is possible that we can get the Senate to step back."
Lungren: Bill has new taxes galore
To pay for the coverage expansion under the House bill, the legislation calls for, among other things, a 5.4 percent surtax on individuals making more than $500,000 a year or families earning more than $1 million and a 2.5 percent excise tax on medical services or devices.
"You will be taxed 2.5 percent for the privilege of sitting in a wheel chair," Lungren decried. "I had a hip replacement a year ago; thank God I had it done before the new tax."
If signed by Obama, the health care overhaul would mark the most significant expansion of medical care since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly.
From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at firstname.lastname@example.org.