WEIRTON - U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan on Tuesday defended his vote in favor of a sweeping health care overhaul, maintaining his decision was based on the "impact of the legislation for West Virginia."
Mollohan, D-W.Va., spoke before a group of about 100 people in the Rose Room at the Thomas E. Millsop Community Center in Weirton, including public officials and business leaders invited by the Downtown Business Association.
Mollohan was among 219 Democrats who said "yes" to the bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 219-212 vote on March 21. Not a single Republican voted in favor of the legislation, also opposed by 34 House Democrats.
Photo by Ian Hicks
U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., speaks Tuesday at the Thomas E. Millsop Community Center in Weirton, at an event hosted by the Weirton Downtown Business Association.
With the health care industry accounting for 18 percent of America's gross national product, Mollohan said accessibility to affordable care must improve, calling the current system "dysfunctional."
"The costs of the system are really beginning to destabilize not only the health care industry, but the economy itself," he said. "The good news is, the medical profession today can do a lot for us. ... Medicine can really cure you, but you first have to access it."
Mollohan called the reform bill "evolutionary rather than revolutionary," adding it will not impede upon health care plans Americans already use. He acknowledged it is not "perfect legislation," noting compromises had to be made for it to pass.
"It really ensures that you're going to be able to go out in a free market, and purchase that health insurance," he said. "It allows you to go out and shop for that health care plan that suits you."
Those who opposed the measure, Mollohan added, are the same interests that opposed Social Security and Medicare, two programs championed largely by Democrats that benefit seniors. Yet, he said, those same interests attempted to convince senior citizens the health care plan will represent a threat to their Medicare benefits.
"Is it credible that a bunch of Democrats ... that they're going to go to Washington and do something that hurts seniors?" Mollohan said.
One audience member asked if the legislation would provide incentives for those entering the medical field to become family doctors. Mollohan said there would be financial incentives for doctors who chose private practice, noting the bill is "big on preventive care and primary care doctors," which he said is a more efficient way to treat patients than through emergency rooms.
"It is four to 10 times more expensive to treat someone for strep throat in an emergency room than by a primary care physician," said Mollohan. "West Virginia has a disproportionately high number of patients treated in emergency rooms."
Also questioned was whether there is a provision in the bill mandating all American citizens purchase health insurance, and whether such an "individual mandate" is within the government's constitutional rights. Mollohan answered "yes" to both.
"I do understand the argument (that the individual mandate is unconstitutional). On the other hand, everybody that works has to pay into Social Security. ... There have been these social compromises."
He added the bill expands the population base eligible for Medicaid, to include Americans who earn between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level, based on family size. "(The health care bill) reaches into the middle class and says yes, we understand health care is expensive," Mollohan said.
Following the question and answer session, Mollohan said a provision in the Constitution, commonly known as the "commerce clause," gives Congress the authority to require Americans to purchase health care.
"The federal government has the right to speak to any economic issue involving interstate commerce," he said, acknowledging most industries - health care included - are involved in "interstate commerce" in today's world.
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states Congress has the power "(t)o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes."
Mollohan further criticized those who opposed the legislation, particularly "ideologues" who left "no stone unturned" in their attempt to defeat the bill.
"They're trying to scare seniors, there's no two ways about it," he said. "It's just patent nonsense."