On his first visit to Marion County Friday as a U.S. Representative, Congressman Tim Huelskamp of Fowler told a small group of concerned citizens that the Paul Ryan budget would save Medicare, not eliminate it. The freshman U.S. representative was elected in November to replace Jerry Moran, who now is a U.S. senator.
Huelskamp provided charts showing the accelerated growth of the nation’s debt and who holds its debt. One chart showed the growth largely being driven by increases in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security expenditures.
As a member of the House Budget Committee, Huelskamp said he heard experts from across the political spectrum say that reforms need to be enacted promptly to save these programs.
In reference to the Paul Ryan budget proposal that was approved in the House, Eileen Sieger of Marion asked Huelskamp about reports that he had voted to kill Medicare.
“I did not,” he said. “Medicare does not end. We save Medicare.”
He explained that the Medicare reforms in the proposal are long-term and will not change things for people who are 55 or older. For those under 55, he said, a premium-support system would be in place when they enroll. Each enrollee would get a fixed government contribution to the health plan of their choice.
Huelskamp said the benefits and cost savings would come through intense competition among health insurance companies to capture these government-supported premiums.
This is a system similar to the one used by the U.S. Congress and other federal employees.
Huelskamp said the House is working on a health care plan that is expected to be made public this summer. Included will be tort reform, expansion of Health Savings Accounts, and provisions for more competition among insurance companies.
“We need to have a model that will encourage folks to take care of their own health care,” he said.
Regarding Medicaid under the new proposal, the states would receive block grants and would take over responsibility for administering the program.
Harry Bennett of Marion refuted Huelskamp’s assertion that the threat of being sued forces medical practitioners to perform numerous unnecessary tests. Bennett said the tests have saved lives.
Huelskamp responded by saying that he has not yet met a doctor who has denied being forced to take a test for fear of being sued.
Bennett expressed support for a single-payer plan, citing Japan as an example of a “successful” plan.
Huelskamp said the Japanese economy is collapsing because of costs. He also noted a former English prime minister has spoken against government-run health care.
A man with a family and no health insurance was present at the meeting. He said he doesn’t expect to receive Social Security and he doesn’t want the federal government to get involved with issues that are between himself and his doctor.
“I don’t want federal health care,” he said. “The government can take care of children with special needs and the elderly who need it, but leave me alone.”
He asked that he be allowed to have a medical savings account that no one can touch.
Huelskamp said he would take back to Washington the messages he has received from his constituents. The stop in Marion was the 48th of 69 he plans to make on his tour of Kansas’ 1st Congressional District.