Obey talks health care, jobsA trio of federal actions, all tied to jobs, were served up to local labor leaders by Congressman Dave Obey during a Wednesday meeting at the Old Town Restaurant in Superior. Discussion centered on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, recently passed health care reform legislation and a portion of that bill focused on cutting the middleman – banks – out of the student loan process.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A trio of federal actions, all tied to jobs, were served up to local labor leaders by Congressman Dave Obey during a Wednesday meeting at the Old Town Restaurant in Superior. Discussion centered on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, recently passed health care reform legislation and a portion of that bill focused on cutting the middleman – banks – out of the student loan process.
Although a recent Wisconsin survey showing more than half of respondents are opposed to health care reform, the mood at Old Town Wednesday was supportive.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the passing of the issue,” said Rick Lange of South Range. Although he has insurance, he talked of the impact health care reform would have on the lives of his children and friends. One friend has seen his insurance costs skyrocket since he was diagnosed with cancer. He’s stuck with that insurance, however, because he now has a pre-existing condition that makes him uninsurable by other companies.
The health care reform bill creates a need for four million new jobs in the health care sector, Obey said, and provides “more family security than we’ve ever had before in this country.” Key provisions of the bill include preventing insurance companies from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions or dropping clients if they hit a benefits ceiling. It also provides subsidies to help families that make less than $88,000 a year pay for insurance. That could help roughly 175,000 families in Obey’s district alone.
Making health insurance mandatory, the congressman said, puts everybody in the biggest pool possible so businesses aren’t forced to raise rates. The bigger the pool, the easier it is to absorb high treatment costs.
There were concerns by labor leaders, however, that their health insurance benefits would be among the “Cadillac” plans that will be taxed to pay for the bill.
“One of our worries is this is going to cost us money,” said Superior City Councilor Dan Olson of Superior, business manager for Labor Local 1091. “We’re going to be subsidizing insurance.”
“You’re doing that now,” Obey told him. “It costs the average person with insurance today $1,000 a year in hidden subsidies” to cover the uninsured. The health care bill just brings that cost out into the open. He noted that the House paid for the bill by increasing taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year, but the Senate adopted the “taxing of Cadillac plans.” After legislative wrangling, Obey said, the Senate increased the threshold limit for what plans would fall into that category. That taxation wouldn’t begin until 2018, Obey said.
When asked if the health care bill would be constitutionally challenged, the veteran congressman said that you can find a lawyer to argue anything.
“It would be tragic if it were repealed,” Obey said. “We spent 70 years trying to get the United States to join the ranks of civilized countries who don’t make people beg in order to get health care.”
Last year, 900 families in Obey’s district went bankrupt because of health care costs. Nationally, the congressman said, 50 percent of mortgage foreclosures are linked to health care bills.
“With all due respect to polls, when Social Security passed a lot of senior citizens were opposed to it,” Obey said. “Next to Social Security and Medicare, this is the best advance in family security we’ve ever been able to pass.”
Labor leaders lobbed out questions about unemployment extensions, the loss of jobs across the Mexican border due to the North American Free Trade Act and COBRA subsidies. Obey kept the conversation focused on recovery, however.
ARRA funds, he noted, have left a mark on Douglas County. Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, listed local projects that have benefited from the federal funds – work on Highway 53, an upgrade for County Road C, phase two of stormwater improvements in South Superior and a stormwater sewer and retention facility in Billings Park. ARRA funds helped plug the state budget hole, Jauch said, without which the new Swenson Hall academic building at the University of Wisconsin-Superior may not have been approved.
“These infrastructure jobs help a lot,” said Dan Westlund Jr., business representative for Operating Engineers local 139. “They’ve kept guys working.”
Obey noted that the stimulus package has reversed job loss. Three months after it was enacted, he said, job loss began to slow.
“For the first time last month the economy added 162,000 jobs,” Obey said, showing that the stimulus package is working.
He noted that his constituents will soon be receiving a four-page newsletter in the mail with details on the stimulus package and health care bill.