U.S. Sen. Bob Corker sold his health care coverage reform ideas — which do not include a government-run public health insurance option — to about 170 business leaders at a Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon and more than 100 constituents packed into a banquet room at Rogersville’s Hale Springs Inn on Monday.
“I personally believe certain types of health care reform are appropriate and necessary,” the Tennessee Republican said at both events. “We have an opportunity to do something. ... The only way to make things happen, I think, that stands the test of time is to find right-minded people to pass legislation to do that.”
Corker said he has advised President Barack Obama to dedicate “his entire first term” to reform.
Corker’s positions included support for medical liability reform.
That won applause at the Hale Springs Inn although he noted: “I don’t think we’ll really pass tort reform on a national level. ... Laws like that are best done at the state level.”
His advocacy for cross-border competition among health insurance companies also won applause in Rogersville.
“I’d like to be able to buy insurance in Kansas,” he said during the chamber luncheon at the MeadowView Marriott.
Corker also pitched tax credits for those buying private health insurance.
“I also think we should have a way of dealing with pre-existing conditions,” he said to applause in Rogersville.
He also favored a cap on the amount of health insurance premiums that can be excluded from workers’ wages for calculating both income and payroll taxes.
“Right now Goldman Sachs executives ... get a health insurance policy that costs their company $41,000 a year,” he explained. “I’d like to see a reasonable cap at some number, let’s say $17,000. My guess is not many people in Tennessee receive from their employer a health benefit that costs more than $17,000 a year.”
Corker said he opposes the House version of reform, which includes the public option.
“It’s going into the trash,” he said of the House bill. “That would kill the private insurance system. ... We need something that doesn’t add to the national deficit.”
He also expressed opposition to taking more than $400 billion out of Medicare “to leverage” a new reform program and expanding Medicaid to include people with higher income levels.
“We need to experiment and find what works, It’s not all about a political victory,” Corker said.
At the chamber luncheon, Sullivan County Commissioner Bill Kilgore, a veteran, asked Corker if reform will impact defense and especially veterans’ benefits.
“There won’t be a serious attempt to change that,” Corker told Kilgore.
In Rogersville, a number of questions to Corker were about something other than health care coverage reform.
Veteran Max Hyder of Surgoinsville wanted to know what’s happening on the Afghanistan war front.
Corker, who has recently visited Afghanistan, suggested a strategy change might be coming.
He also pointed out Al-Qaeda members don’t reside in Afghanistan.
“Our men and women are fighting the Taliban. ... (But) they have no designs on the United States, none,” Corker said. “They are bad people and do atrocious things ... and control about a third of the country. ... The Taliban is going to fight us as long as we’re fighting them.”
Back on health care, Elizabethton resident Jennie Young questioned Corker’s willingness to “deal with these insurance companies.”
“Every side of this issue has smart people trying to gain advantage...” Corker told Young. “I’m up to sitting down with people on the other side of the aisle to really try to solve this problem. ... I think I’m up to taking on the insurance companies.”
At the end of the Rogersville event, Corker told reporters he didn’t think the passing of Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy will impact the health care coverage reform debate.
“The reason I don’t think it will change a thing is that ... all during this debate, he’s basically been gone (due to his deteriorating health),” Corker said of Kennedy, a longtime universal health care advocate. “He was just really, really ill.”