Rep. Peterson opposes Obama's health care reform planby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — President Obama and U.S. Senate Democrats say they're "united" on the goal of overhauling the nation's health insurance system. But when it comes to hammering out the actual legislation, the party has been far from unified.
The House adjourned last week after its health reform bill cleared a key committee by a slim, three-vote margin. Five of the Democrats on that committee sided with Republicans and voted "no."
The full House is expected to vote on the measure in September. And a key voting bloc will be the "Blue Dog" Democrats -- 52 moderate and conservative Democrats, who represent rural and suburban districts.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a DFLer who represents the northwestern part of Minnesota, is a member of the Blue Dog coalition. He's said he can almost guarantee he will vote against the health care reform bill.
"Frankly, I just don't think this is sustainable," Peterson said on MPR's Morning Edition. "[The Blue Dog coalition] made some changes, but I read the bill, and there are just things in there I think are problematic."
One of Peterson's biggest concerns has been that the Medicare system pays less to doctors in Minnesota than it does to doctors in other parts of the country. The state's entire congressional delegation has expressed concerns about that same issue.
Rep. Betty McCollum said late last month she had reached a resolution with House negotiators over their concerns about the Medicare reimbursement inequities. She said she convinced her colleagues to add language to the bill that would eventually fix Medicare payment disparities that penalize Minnesota.
The language was an agreement to commission a one-year study of the geographic variation in Medicare expenditures. The agreement further requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "implement a payment rate that takes into account this study." But Peterson is skeptical that McCollum's deal will address his concerns.
"I don't think it's got the teeth," Peterson said. "I don't think it requires that at the end of the study that it be implemented."
The proposed language would also allow Congress to scuttle changes to the Medicare payment formula by passing a joint resolution "of disapproval."
Peterson also said he doesn't think the federal government should put more money into the health care system at this point.
"There's enough money in the system, I think, to extend coverage, get rid of pre-existing conditions, all of those kinds of ideas that I think have bipartisan support without putting more money in the system," Peterson said. "I don't think we ought to put more federal money into this health care system until we get the underlying problems fixed."
In a letter to the state's congressional delegation last month, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty outlined his concerns about the health care reform bill. He said the proposal fails to link quality and cost to any real value for consumers.
Pawlenty also opposes any tax increases or additional deficit spending to pay for the bill.
Pawlenty told the delegation the "flawed" measure would do little to solve the health care crisis facing the nation, and encouraged members of the Minnesota delegation to abandon the bill.
He also appeared on the Fox News Channel and described the plan as a "joke" and a "scam."
The state DFL party responded by accusing Pawlenty and other Republicans of trying to halt any reform in an attempt to score political points against President Obama.
- Morning Edition, 08/05/2009, 8:40 a.m.