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Wednesday, 18 October 2006 00:00

What role should the federal government play in helping to make health care more affordable for low- and middle-income Americans?

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Heath Shuler: America is truly facing a health care crisis. Over 46 million Americans are currently living without health insurance — 27 million of those are working Americans whose employers do not offer insurance.

Even more unforgivable is the fact that over 10 percent of American children lack the essential health care coverage they need to grow up healthy and strong. That is immoral and must change.

We need action in Congress, and I will address our health care needs on every level. I will start by fighting to increase funding and awareness for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program so every child has the chance to grow up healthy.

We must also make health insurance more affordable for small businesses by increasing tax credits and expanding purchasing pools. Right now health insurance costs are simply too high for many small businesses to provide coverage for their employees. Far too often this lack of coverage prevents people from seeking preventive care. This lack of care commonly results in a trip to the emergency room as their first and last resort for health care at a much higher cost.

Finally, we must protect Medicare for our seniors and expand it to fit today’s needs. I will work to fix the Medicare prescription drug plan and to create a real plan that is easy to understand and reduces the costs seniors pay for their prescriptions by allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate on behalf of the 40 million seniors on Medicare.

Charles Taylor: In addition to securing federal funds to establish the WNC Data Link to connect our region’s 16 hospitals, I have been working in Washington to improve our health care system nationally.

I was proud to have supported the creation of the first-ever prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients, which is now saving seniors an average of $1,100 per year on their drug costs. Because of this program, 40,000 WNC seniors who previously had no drug coverage now receive financial help with their life-saving medicines.

Over 60 percent of the 45 million uninsured Americans depend upon small businesses for their — or their families’ — employment. The House passed legislation — with my strong support — to encourage more small businesses to offer insurance to their employees by creating association health plans. These plans give bargaining power to small businesses so they can offer coverage without the fear of rising premiums.

We must also reduce health care costs by reforming the medical malpractice system. Trial lawyers are holding doctors hostage with frivolous lawsuits — driving up premiums, increasing the cost of care, and driving many doctors out of practice altogether. I proudly cosponsored and supported House-passed legislation that ends the trial lawyers’ malpractice lawsuit lottery.

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