By GREG RUSSELL
Register Staff Writer
Criticism of Obamacare highlighted Friday’s discussion between local business owners and a congressman whose jurisidiction has included Cooke County in full only since January.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon), servant of the state’s 13th congressional district, told visitors his territory enveloped the county after a redistricting process, triggered by the 2010 Census, gave him some 40,000 square miles to represent.
“I’m glad to have the chance to represent the whole county rather than having to worry about what side of the block you all live on,” Thornberry said Friday.
The congressman said the point of the meeting was to gather input among business owners whose finances and operations may soon be severely affected in January 2014, when President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” takes effect.
As written, Thornberry added, the extensive bill essentially represents a “rough draft” that may never have been intended as an unmalleable list of directives — but appears certain to fail and cause damage as insurance premiums skyrocket as high as 70 percent.
“Obamacare is going to collapse one way or another,” he said. “Those of us who don’t want to see that happen should have a replacement or alternative. There’s a bunch of folks who are working to have not a 2,000-page bill that replaces another 2,000 page bill -- but a different approach to healthcare so that we’re not just against Obamacare but for something.”
Thornberry said in time, he and fellow congress members might create bills that the president would sign into law. His own website includes 10 suggested actions that would help serve a national alternative. They include, he said, ensuring access for patients with pre-existing conditions, strengthening and simplifying Medicare and removing barriers that prevent people from buying health insurance outside state lines.
“Being able to buy insurance across state lines makes more insurance products available and puts more competition into the insurance industry,” he said.
Visiting attorney Byron Berry said another way to help reform healthcare is to alter the market and reduce student loan debt among practicing doctors, whose prices are often affected by how much they privately owe.
If college curriculum was streamlined to eliminate unrelated courses, Berry said, potential physicians could focus their time, studies and tuition budgets on medicine rather than subjects that have nothing to do with becoming a doctor.
“I don’t need to be read poetry by my proctologist,” Berry said.
Cheryl Davis of Workforce Solutions Texoma said her job puts her in a position to hear complaints both from the unemployed and from employers in a shaky economy. The jobless are compelled to try and string together several part-time jobs instead of a full-time job that includes benefits while employers are compelled to conduct layoffs and cutbacks of full-time positions because they can’t afford to pay medical expenses.
“I don’t know the answer to this, but none of it’s good right now,” she said.
Thornberry added that federal spending has decreased for the second year in a row, in the first such instance since 1954. The trillion-dollar deficit, he said, is currently more in the range of $600 billion.
But the reduction has mainly been attributed to a cut in defense spending.
“We can’t cut defense because, well, look around the world,” he said.
Thornberry also said the current crisis in Syria, with its civil war and publicized chemical attacks against citizens, has recently superceded Obamacare in terms of congressional attention.
But in the coming year, Obamacare may be the most impactful issue faced by residents and business owners throughout his 44-county district.
“The question I get most often is, ‘Can you stop it?’” he said. “And sure: you can always change a law by passing a new law. But I think in some of the discussion that’s gone around, the impression is that if we just don’t pass a funding bill, then that can stop Obamacare from being implemented. And that is not true, because 90 percent of the funding to implement this is in mandatory spending such as Medicare and Social Security. So those things go on forever until there’s a new law passed that changes them.
“So we will absolutely make an effort to put in changes in law that either repeal or delay the implementation,” Thornberry added. “But President Obama’s going to have to sign it into law to make it take effect. So it will be challenging to find something he has to sign into law that would change or delay something he’s very proud of.”