Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, today sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius following her visit to Montana to discuss the health care legislation that was signed into law earlier this year. Polls at the time of passage indicated that Montanans strongly opposed the measure, and recent reports indicate that time has not improved the bill's popularity. Rehberg has sponsored legislation to repeal the bill.
"I wish the authors of Obamacare had taken the time to listen to Montanans before they passed it instead of after, but I'm glad that they're finally willing to hear what the folks I've been hearing from for years have to say," said Rehberg, a member of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. "Americans still need health care reform that addresses costs and access, and unfortunately, the bill that passed addresses neither for rural states like Montana. At this point, the easiest solution is to start from scratch."
Rehberg, who was the only member of Montana's delegation to hold open, public meetings in Montana as the health care reform law was drafted and passed, cited the public sentiment he heard at those meetings as the justification for his vote. That negative public sentiment was also reflected in statewide polls, that indicated strong opposition to the bill.
"Unfortunately, the unpopularity of Obamacare is only a symptom of the serious deficiencies in the bill itself," said Rehberg. "Far from fixing the problems we face, this job-killing bill makes things worse by hamstringing the economy and targeting small businesses for increased regulation and expenses."
Dear Secretary Sebelius,
Thank you for taking the time to visit Big Sky Country and discuss the health care needs of rural Montana. While it certainly would have been preferable for you to discuss the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) with Montanans before it was actually passed into law, I'm pleased you got a chance to talk to folks in a couple of communities.
As I'm sure you heard during your visit, quality health care is particularly challenging in a state like Montana where less than one million people are spread over 147,000 square miles. Having held 72 open and public listening sessions in Montana this Congressional term alone, I would like to share with you some of the rural health concerns I've heard from around the state.
As with most of the country, Montana's economy is driven by small businesses which provide more than 98 percent of the jobs in our state. I have heard from a wide variety of small business owners who have expressed concern about the new obligations contained in the PPACA. Whether it's the mandate to offer health insurance, new taxes on Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Savings Accounts (FSAs), increased insurance premiums, or the requirement that all vendors are responsible for additional IRS paperwork for purchases of $600 or greater, many businesses have stopped hiring or are being forced to reduce their workforce to comply with these new obligations. In short, these burdensome obligations impact job creation.
I have also heard from many of Montana's seniors and their doctors with concerns about Medicare. Not only does the PPACA cut $575 billion from Medicare, the new law does nothing to deal with the most pressing issue facing Medicare today -- the need for a permanent fix to the reimbursement rate cuts for doctors providing service to Medicare patients. Many doctors have told me that if these cuts go into effect they will no longer be able to afford to offer services to their Medicare patients. In a state where some patients must travel for hours to reach their doctor, it may be impossible to find an alternative provider.
Additionally, I have heard concerns about the cost of the new high risk pool program. We discussed this when you testified before the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this year. While I agree that changes are necessary to address the health insurance needs of those with pre-existing conditions, current estimates indicate this temporary program is going to cost up to three times the original estimate of $5 billion. It's unclear how you intend to pay for this shortfall. Furthermore, because this estimate was so inaccurate I have serious concerns as to the accuracy of the cost estimates of permanent programs.
Many of my constituents are also opposed to the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. As you know, a recent ballot initiative in Missouri found that 71 percent of voters opposed the individual mandate. While no such equivalent survey has been conducted in Montana, it only takes one open, public listening session to realize that folks here share this concern.
Thank you again for visiting Montana. I hope you'll keep the thoughts of Montanans in mind as we continue to address the problems facing America's health care system.