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Peterson, Oberstar split on health care

Northern Minnesota U.S. House members split on Sunday's late-night vote on health care reform legislation.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, supported the measure which passed 219-212, while U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, was one of 34 Democrats to vote against the measure.

The first vote sent the earlier-passed Senate health care reform bill to President Barack Obama, while a second vote -- 220-211 -- sent a bill of corrections to the Senate for its reconciliation vote and then on to Obama.

Oberstar said, in a floor statement Sunday, that the House crosses "an historic threshold in the evolution of social justice, quality of life, equity of health service delivery, and worthy legacy for our children" with the bill's passage.

Peterson, in a statement issued late Sunday night, said the bill wasn't right for the people of the 7th District, "so I voted against it. Some people will appreciate that and some will be disappointed, but I made this decision because I thought it was the right thing to do for the people I serve, and that's everyone who lives in the 7th District."

Peterson, chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, said there was a clear consensus that a reform bill needed to reduce the cost of health care, expand coverage and fix the problems that exist without destroying the parts of the system that work.

"If the bills we voted on (Sunday) night had measured up to these standards I would have supported them, but they did not," he said. "In my judgment, while these bills deliver some good things they miss the mark on the most important things and will not deliver as promised."

The measure doesn't control costs, doesn't reform Medicare and only covers 37 percent of the uninsured in the 7th District, as opposed to an average of 68 percent nationally, he said.

"Some districts will see coverage expanded to cover as much as 92 percent of the uninsured and Minnesotans will paying for that while leaving 63 percent of our 7th District residents without coverage. This is very similar to the way the Medicare geographic disparities problem was created back in 1982," Peterson said.

The geographic payment disparity encourages cost-shifting and rewards low quality/high cost health care providers in other states while forcing Minnesota to do more with less while also covering costs in other states that aren't doing the right thing for their own citizens, he said.

"And on top of that, this legislation will not control costs -- in fact it seems to me that it will do just the opposite; health insurance premiums will rise. CBO has said that premiums for individuals will increase 10-13 percent," Peterson said.

The Detroit Lakes Democrat, however, did hail parts of the bill which will end pre-existing condition exclusions for children within six months of enactment, and do the same for adults when "exchange" markets are established in 2014.

"However, this legislation avoided making the critical reforms we really need in order to strengthen our rural health care system and by doing so it punts these problems into the future where it's likely that they'll be even more difficult and more expensive to solve," Peterson said.

Oberstar, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, indicated Saturday that he would support the legislation which must be reconciled with the Senate.

"In Minnesota and throughout the nation, citizens will quickly see the benefits of this legislation that include important consumer protections to reduce the power of health insurance companies," Oberstar said.

"You will have greater control of your health care decisions. This bill will assure that no one's current health care can be dropped. No one will be forced out of the health care they now hold," he said. "No one will be denied coverage because of a previously existing condition. No one's health insurance will be dropped because of lifetime caps; no one can be denied when they need their health insurance the most. People will be able to retain their health insurance if they change jobs."

The health care legislation, he said, will assure that all Americans will be able to have and to keep health insurance and is central to the nation's economic recovery and to balance the federal budget.

"To be sure, this health care reform legislation will not cure every shortcoming in our health care system, but unquestionably the status quo is unacceptable and unaffordable" the Chisholm Democrat said. "For far too long, too many citizens have been denied essential health care, and our commitment to fundamental justice demands that we make affordable access available to every American."

The measure wll also help rural health care, Oberstar said.

"I am pleased to report that the health care legislation under consideration not only expands health insurance coverage in rural America, but it also promotes the training and placement of health care professionals in rural areas," he said. "I am also very pleased that this legislation addresses the longstanding geographic disparity in Medicare reimbursement. Northland health care providers have been greatly disadvantaged by unfair Medicare reimbursement, and this legislation closes that gap and moves us inexorably toward payment parity with the rest of the country."

An anti-abortion advocate, Oberstar said that he is "confident that abortion will not be funded in this legislation." An executive order signed by Obama upon enactment reaffirms the enforcement of current law that prevents the use of federal funds for abortion.