Space Could Change His Mind on Health Care Bill

WHEELING – U.S. Rep. Zack Space says he “blue dogged” House leadership until changes that could save local hospitals money were included in proposed health care reform legislation.

And the Ohio Democrat now supports the health care reform bill passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee. But he said he could change his mind if key components fought for by him and fellow “blue dog” Democrats – fiscally-conservative members of the party – are later stripped from the legislation.

There are multiple bills in Congress pertaining to health care, and these will ultimately be combined into one measure for members to decide, he noted. Among the ideas being discussed is the creation of a government-run public insurance plan that would compete with private insurers.

“There are some that want socialized medicine,” he said. “I’m not one of them. That’s a mistake. Then there are some who want us to do nothing.

“This public plan is not socialized medicine. It is an attempt to keep insurance companies honest and to provide honest competition,” he said.

Initially, reimbursement rates under the public plan would have been the same for providers as those currently under Medicare, he said.

“While that sounds good, it was not good for our local hospitals,” Space added. “I will tell you that between 60 to 70 percent of everyone who walks in the door is either a Medicare or Medicaid recipient, and they’re losing money on them.

“They’re making up margins on the roughly 20 percent of privately insured cases,” he said. “If that shrinks to 10 percent as folks are crowded into the public plan, small hospitals can’t make their margins and we lose some of them. That was one of the lines in the sand I couldn’t cross.”

The seven “blue dogs” on the Energy and Commerce Committee wanted legislation to mandate that public insurance be subject to the same fees and taxes paid by private insurers, according to Space. And they also wanted a public plan to have to negotiate reimbursement rates.

“If the public plan were tying rates to Medicare, it would not have to charge as much for premiums and would force private plans out of business,” Space said. “We didn’t want to see that. So we fought hard against that. If they take it out of bill, they’re losing my support.”