D.C. health care debate, concerns filter through Placer County communities

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The national health care debate is also a passionate subject locally. For some Auburn-area residents opposed to plans now moving onto the U.S. Senate floor, it’s an issue that cuts deep into the core values of the country. Government is the problem, not the solution, said Steve Cavolt, who has been active in organizing Tea Party events in the area. The question Americans should be asking is whether they will allow the government to seize control and take away personal freedoms and choice over health care, he said. “The fight comes down to a matter deeper than health care,” said Cavolt, a glass and window business owner who lives in Auburn. “This is a debate over what defines us as a country and as Americans. For others, it’s about government stepping in to bring insurers back in line. Joyce Beeman, a senior who lives in Auburn, said that she has no faith that the healthcare insurance she has had all her life will be there for her unless there is government-backed, guaranteed coverage. “I have no faith or belief that I will continue to have coverage because it is all predicated on the whims of the insurance industry,” Beeman said. “If I should become seriously ill, I have no confidence that my insurer will not cancel my insurance.” The debate continues to play out, with the health industry caught in the center of the storm. Alfred Kottman, a Lincoln resident who has worked in health care for 20 years, said he has seen firsthand that the system has failed when compared to other developed nations. “The system is based on the profit motive, not on healing patients,” Kottman said. “It fires doctors who do not order enough unnecessary procedures and pays them back to add their signatures to medical research performed by political hacks.” Dr. Peter Skaff, a neurologist who lives in El Dorado Hills and practices in Carmichael, said the current legislation doesn’t address core problems that can be fixed. Of primary concern is the potential of removing the decision-making connection between doctor and patient that has been the foundation of medicine since the time of Hippocrates, he said. Skaff said potential areas for reform include changing the personal injury law that now encourages predatory lawsuits, makes all physicians afraid not to order tests, and increases the cost of malpractice insurance. “A lot can be done without changing the system full-scale,” Skaff said. ”We’re not going to get a good bill if Congress is taking it like bad medicine – holding their noses and swallowing hard.” Dr. Mark Vaughn, part of the Auburn Medical Group and host of KAHI 950’s “Medically Speaking” program, said that the system is off-balance when some cannot get health care and others who have it are paying “Cadillac” levels for procedures and testing. Vaughn said he can’t bring himself to support the Democrat-backed bill because it will drop the amount of Medicare money available over the next 10 years by several hundred billion dollars. “I don’t know what will be left for seniors who get most of their healthcare from Medicare,” he said. “What they’re doing is going to gut Medicare.” The House passed its version of healthcare reform legislation this month on a near party line vote of 220-215, a victory for President Barack Obama as well as his allies in Congress. Majority Leader Harry Reid is now considering a plan for higher payroll taxes on the upper-income earners to help finance health care legislation he intends to introduce in the Senate in the next several days, AP reported. The report quoted officials saying one of the options Reid has had under review would raise the payroll tax that goes to Medicare, but only on income above $250,000 a year. Current law sets the tax at 1.45 percent of income, an amount matched by employers. In general, the House-passed measure and the one Reid is expected to propose are designed to expand coverage to tens of millions of uninsured, eliminate insurance industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions, and slow the overall rate of growth in health care spending nationally. The House-passed legislation includes a surtax of 5.4 percent on income above $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for couples, a proposal that has drawn little if any backing in the Senate. And while Washington, D.C. politicians gird for more battles on health care, the debate continues to also divide communities. Ginny Rapini, a Colfax resident, said Thursday that she’s concerned about the growth of government and the amount of money needed for health-care plans. “The administration has, in nine months, taken us further into debt by trillions of dollars, setting new debt records every day,” Rapini said. “To add to that the multi-trillion-dollar health care program will crush our economy. The only growth will be in the size of government.” Yoka Koch of Loomis said the House decision will put the nation back on the right track both for its citizens and its ability to compete in the global market. “Up to this point, we were the only industrialized, technologically developed nation without a humane health care plan to keep its population healthy,” Koch said. “The status quo was no longer an option.” The Associated Press contributed to this report. ------------------------- Local voices: On the health care debate “The system is based on profit motive, not on healing patients.” Alfred Kottman, Lincoln “Allow the free market to deliver real competition and let the free market spur innovation.” Ginny Rapini, Colfax “Whenever such a program is imposed, the result is always the same; massive cost overruns followed by a brutal rationing of care.” Steve Cavolt, Auburn “It is time to provide people what they have been paying for for years: guaranteed coverage.” Joyce Beeman, Auburn “What I can’t stand is what it would do to Medicare.” Dr. Mark Vaughn, Auburn “Congratulations to those representatives who voted for the bill, resisting the tremendous pressures from the insurance industries.” Yoka Koch, Loomis