Recess Politics

“I’ve done 11 Town Halls, 2 Tele-Town Halls, I’ve been in 46 different towns in Georgia in 24 days…there are very few people that are in favor of a public option.” Sen. Johnny Isakson, (R-Ga.)

Health care reform is number one topic on the minds of the people of Georgia, and Sen. Johnny Isakson ought to know. Considered one of the “safe” senators up for re-election in 2010, Isakson is criss-crossing the state talking to constituents. In addition to health care questions, water and the economy are distant second and third at these gatherings.

The number one question he gets is whether Congress will participate in a government run health care system or will they exempt themselves. Isakson said, “Newt was a real leader in the house when he said that Congress should have to live under the laws they make.”  He went on to say, “I offered the amendment with Sen. Tom Coburn in committee to require that Congress be under the government plan if passed.”

Of course, that amendment was rejected.

When talking about the stops he’s made around the state during the recess, Isakson said, “There are people that have a problem getting insurance, they want help and there are those who can’t afford it, they want help. But I have not found any budding or building momentum towards anybody who wants a government plan. It’s just not an acceptable option."

What about the atmosphere at the public gatherings and town hall meetings he’s attended? Isakson said, “I think basically the silent majority that Richard Nixon identified 35 years ago has awoken again in America and their speaking out about their health care and about their concern over this proposal and I think the Democrats and especially the leadership recognize that they have a serious problem.”

Isakson thinks there are mixed signals coming out of the Democrat leadership and noted Sen. Harry Reid issued a statement saying he thought the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy would help the Democrats get health care reform passed. He also noted that the President is going to make a more “prescriptive speech about health care later this week.”  After I interviewed Isakson, it was announced that President Obama will address a Joint Session of Congress about health care next week.

Isakson was adamant in making the point of how bad the proposal is for America right now.

“The president himself when asked about how he was going to pay for the $1.3 trillion cost as scored by the CBO said three things," Isakson said. "Number one, he’s going to reduce the cost of Medicare which means he’s going to lower reimbursements which means that seniors are going to have less choice and less access. We already have 1 in 4 doctors that won’t take Medicare patients as it is. Number two, he wants to raise the Medicaid eligibility to 150% of poverty that raises the states contribution by 50%, which would mean the state budgets would be 20% Medicaid which is the largest unfunded mandate Congress would ever pass to the public and then lastly, to add insult to injury, the president wants to do away with DSH payments, which is disproportionate share payments.

”Now this is technical — basically it’s a payment that hospitals get to disproportionately treat the poor.  So you’re going to tell the people who are taking those patients you re going to pull back their disproportionate share payments to pay for these other patients.  I don’t think so.”

“It’s time we recognize there are lots of good proposals that have been stifled in the interest of the administration trying to push a public plan,” Isakson said.  He’d like to see a more reasonable plan that recognizes the problem, the 15% or so Americans who are uninsured.

Isakson believes the uninsured fall in to several categories.  First, there are those who are eligible for Medicaid or S-Chip and are not registered. The government should be doing that under current law.  Next, let insurance be sold across state lines.  Let people in affiliated professions associate together to form a large enough risk pool to share the risk and lower the cost and let those association health plans compete in the market place. Get these things accomplished and one-half to two thirds of the uninsured will be covered.  

The balance left is in two categories. One category makes enough money to buy health insurance but they don’t. The final category is what Isakson calls the “$64,000 Question.” They are illegal immigrants and the estimate varies from 6-12 million. “Let me make a point here, any person that is here legally can acquire health insurance or gets government assistance.  It’s only if you are in here illegally that you don’t…legalization works to their benefit and not to their detriment,” Isakson said.

Isakson hasn’t been asked to weigh in on the health care debate by the president, but he has this advice for President Obama, “I would tell him there are two bills in the health committee in the Senate, a bipartisan bill and a Republican bill. Both provide access and affordability without raising a single penny of the debt and not costing a single additional tax dollar. I have read the bills; I could have read ‘Gone with the Wind’ three times in the time I took reading these bills. Consider these bills.”

We don’t know yet what the President will propose.  We do know that the American people will continue to let Congress and the president know what they think with Tea Parties, Rallies and Marches planned over the next two weeks.  Isakson will be on the front lines. Will you?