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Daily Herald- Lawmakers Stake Out Positions On Health Care

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Daily Herald: Lawmakers Stake Out Positions On Health Care

Suburban lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill generally agree health care reforms should target those without coverage and make sure no one is denied insurance.

"The most important single thing is to eliminate the possibility for people to be uninsurable," U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a Batavia Democrat, said. "There is a very broad consensus that this needs to be fixed."

But disagreements regarding the way to achieve such reform are striking.

The controlling Democrats remain split on the so-called public option. Some say the federal government must play a larger role as an insurance provider for any reform to be successful. Other Democrats fear the economic consequences of too much government intrusion on private-sector health care.

Both views can be found among Illinois Democrats.

"A public option is the best way to create real competition, and should be a central component of any meaningful reform legislation," U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, a Chicago Democrat, told the Daily Herald in an e-mail.

Evanston Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky was more direct.

"Without a robust public option I won't vote for the legislation," said Schakowsky, who has favored a single-payer system. "I think we are headed in that direction."

But among other suburban Democrats support for the public option is limited and conditional.

"The key element is choice. We cannot afford to undermine the private plans that the vast majority of Americans have," said U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, a Barrington Democrat. In a recent tele-townhall, Bean said she does not consider the public option "a litmus test."

Foster has expressed similar views.

"I favor the public option as long as it's a true competitor with the private industry," he said. "It's very important to keep the private sector alive."

If there is a public option, Foster said the final decision on whether to go with it should be left to the states. "Market conditions are very different from one state to another," he said.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, has also remained politically flexible on the issue, on one hand telling the Daily Herald he supports the public option but adding: "If there are other alternatives, I'm open to them."

Meanwhile, area Republicans have played the role of economic critics throughout this debate, expressing concern over a high-cost reform that could balloon deficits and force tax increases and standing united against a government takeover via public option health care.

"The government-run public option will cost trillions, explode the deficit and limit quality of care. Bad policy with a huge price tag isn't something I'll support," U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, said.

A spokesman for Highland Park Republican Congressman Mark Kirk raised fears of the Democratic plan leading to health care rationing and a federal bureaucracy overruling family doctors.

Similarly, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, a Hinsdale Republican, expressed concern that a plan including a public option would place "government bureaucrats between patients and their doctor."

In general, suburban Republicans said they would rather support a less ambitious reform targeting the uninsured and high costs.

Alternatives being touted by some members in both parties include letting small businesses band together through national associations to give them the same health care purchasing power as larger employers, which tend to offer lower prices because the costs are spread over a broader work force.

Other suggestions include expanding small business tax deductions for health care expenses, a provision that could allow the self-employed to purchase health care insurance before paying their Social Security and Medicare taxes. Creating refundable tax credits to help low-income Americans purchase health insurance is also under discussion.

And Republicans have seized the health care debate to again push for medical malpractice reform. Republican members say limiting awards in such lawsuits will help bring down health care costs.

Interestingly, it's also an issue Illinois Republicans said was glaringly absent from health care legislation pushed in Springfield in 2004 by then-state Sen. Barack Obama. At the time, Obama said that was a separate debate and his proposal urging Illinois to study how to create a plan that would cover everyone passed with only Democratic votes.

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