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U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, answers student questions during a meeting with Bemidji State University Democrats and Beltrami County legislators Wednesday on campus. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Peterson: Health care reform must move forward

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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Even though he voted against federal health care reform, the legislation must move forward, with changes, says U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District.

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"The bad things outweighed the good things," Peterson said Wednesday while meeting with a handful of Bemidji State University Democrats and Beltrami County legislators. "I could not go home and defend it."

BSU Democrat Devin Aakre asked Peterson why he voted against the bill, as "it wasn't a perfect bill, but a place to start."

It's become a campaign issue for Peterson's Republican opponent, Lee Byberg, who wonders why Peterson voted against health care reform but won't sign a pledge to repeal it now.

"There were too many ideological things put in by people, special deals," Peterson said. "California got Medicare got fixed, and I've been trying to fix this for 12 years. We didn't get it fixed in this bill, but they took care of northern California by itself."

It was a problem the bill was intended to fix in the first place, he said. A Medicare patient may get a $16,000 reimbursement in some parts of the country, but only $6,200 in Minnesota.

"We spent $1 trillion and we didn't fix it," he said. "The more the public finds out about this, the more they're against it."

Peterson said he read the 3,000-plus page bill. "And if a lot more people had read the bill, it might not have passed. We're probably going to lose the House over this bill."

Bills are not always perfect, he said, and compromise usually presents the best bill. "At the end of the day, I look at how it affects my district, what the people in my district think about it, and I have to be able to go out and believe in what I'm saying when I defend it, or I just can't do it."

There are items in the bill that needs to get done, Peterson said. "But what irritates me is that 80 percent of what's in that bill could have been agreed to on a bipartisan basis, if they approached the damn thing different."

The other 20 percent came from committee chairmen putting their own spin on the legislation, he said. "They just cut the Republicans out completely. They didn't want to work with them."

He contrasted that process with that of work on the 2008 Farm Bill, with Peterson as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

"When I started the farm bill, the Republicans didn't want to work with me, either," he said. "I spent a year down in their office listening to them, talking to them. I found out what they needed, not what they wanted. And I put it in the bill.

"That's how you get a bipartisan bill, and that didn't happen with health care," he added.

"Now I get beat up because I'm not in favor of repealing it," Peterson said. "We'd lose another two-three years, and that doesn't make any sense. There is stuff in there that is good, and it's getting implemented."

Even if repeal were agreed to in Congress, a presidential veto would stand until President Barack Obama leaves office, he said.

"Say they got rid of the whole thing at that point (in 2013), then we've lost another five years," he said. "What are we going to do with these folks who have pre-existing conditions? People who can't buy insurance? We're not going to just dump them on the state."

The last major reform for Medicare was in 2003 when Peterson was able to negotiate $38 billion for rural hospital Medicare reimbursements, he said, adding he was one of three Democrats to support the bill.

Critical access hospitals -- 25 beds -- in rural America now get 101 percent reimbursement, he said.

"There's got to be a plan to make this more fair," he said of full-scale Medicare reform. "If you can't do it when you're doing this big huge bill, when are you ever able to do this?"

Peterson was old to wait until the whole issue is on the table. "Well, we had the whole thing on the table and still didn't get it fixed, and it impacts our hospitals."

Peterson also said he didn't like provisions put in place to pay for health care reform. One requires the filing of Internal Revenue Service 1099 forms for any services paid for that is over $600.

"So if you hire a plumber for your house, and you pay him more than $600, you now have to sign up and get a federal ID number and file 1099s," Peterson said. "I'll guarantee you nobody's going to know how to do this. This is going to be the biggest damn mess you ever saw."

That provision will get repealed, he said.

"Eventually we'll clean this up," the Detroit Lakes Democrat said. "The good stuff will stay there, we'll hopefully fix some of this other stuff, and it will be a process."

While Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, said a good provision of the bill sets a cap on the amount of insurance premium that goes to administrative costs, Peterson disagreed.

"That's making sure the money goes where it should go, so you dpn't have an unreasonable amount of money going to processing," Olson said.

"You can't repeal economics<' Peterson said. "You can't just go in and set an arbitrary thing and say this is what you're going to do. They're already dropping insurance on a lot of people because of that provision."

Payment hinges on how a medical procedure is defined, he said. "It's a meat ax approach to the problem. ... Here we have the federal government setting this arbitrary thing when the states are the ones who actually enforce that. We don't regulate insurance companies, the state does."

And states differ on what is termed administrative costs, he said.

Students asked about rising tuition, and Peterson said Congress has raised the amount to Pell grants three times in recent years.

The state has failed to keep its portion of funding, slipping from 65 percent to 45 percent of the base cost of colleges, with tuition paying the rest, said Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook.

"It's leading to deficits at MnSCU that's going to start affecting class offerings, educational opportunities you have," Skoe said. "It's hard to imagine that we're going to compete well when we're doing less of this as opposed to more."

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