‘ IN COLORADO, CRAVING REFORM OF HEALTH CARE & CONGRESS.’ Excellent read from today’s New York Times by Robert Pear.

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2010 at 00:54

In Colorado, Craving Reform of Health Care and Congress


Published: January 10, 2010

DENVER — Donny Seyfer, the manager of an auto repair shop here, had high hopes when President Obama and Congress tackled health care as their top priority early last year.

“This is good,” Mr. Seyfer remembers thinking. He expected Congress to “find out what Americans wanted.” But, he said in an interview at his shop, the Congressional debate deteriorated into a partisan brawl, and Congress has virtually ignored his biggest concern: holding down health costs.

“I am an automotive diagnostician,” Mr. Seyfer said. “We look for the root cause of problems. If we treat the symptoms, the problem always comes back. With health care, we are not treating the root cause: Why does it cost so much?”

Mr. Seyfer’s disappointment was echoed in dozens of interviews here and in Fort Collins, Colo. People from both sides of the political spectrum — and apolitical consumers — said they were deeply skeptical about the health care bill being put together by Congress and the White House.

The concern illustrates the challenge Mr. Obama and Democratic lawmakers face in trying to meld House and Senate bills in a way that can be sold to the public. All kinds of issues are still in play, from how to cover abortion to whether to tax high-cost health plans.

President Obama hopes to sign a bill that guarantees access to insurance, outlaws the denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and subsidizes premiums for many low- and middle-income people. Heading into Congressional elections this fall, Democrats hope voters will reward them for a historic achievement.

But Republicans are already using the bill as ammunition against Democrats who voted for it, like Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.

About 800,000 Colorado residents, representing one-sixth of the state’s population, are uninsured. The state’s politics are mixed and somewhat unpredictable. Colorado has a sizable contingent of people who want a single-payer government-financed health care system, as well as libertarians and Tea Party protesters opposed to big government.

Few of those interviewed here expect to see direct benefits from the legislation. Many complained of sweetheart deals done to win votes in the Senate. Liberals and conservatives alike said Congress was too influenced by special interests.

Tamara L. Kirch, who is uninsured and stands to benefit from the legislation, bristled at the proposed requirement to buy insurance.

“We have a frontier mentality,” Ms. Kirch said. “I don’t want the government telling me what to do.” (She feels the same way about abortion: “The government should not tell a woman what to do with her womb.”)

Democrats, Republicans and independents each account for about one-third of registered voters in Colorado.

Mr. Obama carried the state with 54 percent of the vote in 2008. But Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., a Democrat who was facing a tough fight for re-election, pulled out of the race last week.

Representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Denver, is a champion of the bill passed by the House in November. But Representative Betsy Markey, a freshman Democrat from the district that includes Fort Collins, voted against it, saying the bill did not do enough to cut costs.

Ron Vaughn, who provides health insurance to his 60 employees at Argonaut Wine and Liquor near the state Capitol, said: “I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of guy. I want the Democrats out of my pocket and Republicans out of my bedroom. The one word I would use for what’s going on in Washington is embarrassing. I am embarrassed for Republicans and for Democrats. They started out on the right foot, but it’s degenerated.

“Republicans misled people and tried to scare seniors by putting out misinformation about death panels,” Mr. Vaughn said. “Then to pass a bill in the Senate, Democrats stooped to bartering for votes. It demeans the whole process.”

James W. Noon, who runs a packaging supply business here, said he was irked to see Senate leaders secure votes by promising extra Medicaid money to Nebraska and Louisiana.

“Don’t they realize how dumb that looks?” said Mr. Noon, a Republican.

Michael R. Stone, a private investigator who describes himself as a political independent, was bothered by those deals, too.

“President Obama campaigned on a promise to change the way things are done in Washington,” Mr. Stone said. “But it seems like business as usual to me.”

Richard F. Barkey, a former chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party and a leader of the advocacy group Health Care for All Colorado, said: “We had huge expectations for President Obama and the Democrats in Congress. But they could not build a dam big enough to stop the flood of money from corporate interests that have influenced the health care debate.”

Eliza Carney, a member of the same group, said, “Obama and his administration have really — I won’t say betrayed, but — disappointed us.”

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