Tester takes questions on health care reform

The Billings Gazette

by Diane Cochran

Montanans will come out ahead under health care reform legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president, Sen. Jon Tester told an audience in Billings on Tuesday.

“It is a good law, and it is a law I believe is right for Montana,” Tester said. “It is going to be a huge step forward for Montana families.”

Tester fielded questions about the health care overhaul from voters gathered at Montana State University Billings.

Only one of the 15 people who addressed him clearly opposed the legislation.

Barry Usher, owner of Beartooth Harley-Davidson/Buell and Hi Mountain Recreation, accused Tester and other Democrats of using the health care reform to redistribute the nation’s wealth.

Usher said he grew up poor but has managed to do well for himself. He sees health care reform as the government taking his success and giving it to someone else.

“I’m scared for my kids who are going to have to work six or seven months of the year to pay for someone on a program,” he said.

“Just what you say offends me,” Usher said, his voice shaking with anger. “I can see you guys don’t care how I feel.”

Usher was responding in part to a question from retiree Jim Oset, who asked Tester what he made of the vitriol surrounding the health care debate.

“It’s ugly, it’s vicious and it’s totally, totally unnecessary,” Oset said.

Tester attributed the acrimony to a combination of fears about the economy and a general unease associated with change.

“It’s a prime opportunity for folks to really stoke the fire,” he said.

The law is neither radical nor perfect, Tester said. For every person who thinks it goes too far, there is another who wishes it could do more.

Karen Drollinger, a parent of a disabled child, asked Tester why the law focused on health insurance but not on health care.

“How does this bill address the runaway train that is health care expense?” Drollinger asked.

Competition in a health insurance exchange will reduce costs, as will emphasis on preventive care and disease screening, Tester said.

There is also language in the law that encourages a shift toward paying medical providers for quality care instead of quantity of care, he said.

Henry Pretty on Top, a member of the Crow Tribe, wanted to know how reform will affect American Indians. The law includes a provision called the Indian Health Care Reform Act.

“This bill applies to Indian people as it applies to everyone else,” Tester said.

It also will improve the care that American Indians receive through the Indian Health Service, he said.

“The life-and-limb provisions by IHS are not acceptable,” Tester said, referring to the agency’s practice of treating only ailments that risk life or limb after it runs out of funding each year.