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Travis Childers

Travis Childers

‘Read the bill,’ advises Blue Dog congressman

By Billy Davis

“This is only a proposed bill,” Congressman Travis Childers said this week, speaking reassuringly to The Panolian about controversial healthcare legislation.

Childers was referring to H.R. 3200, a mammoth 1,017-page bill that, at the very least, would overhaul how healthcare is administered, and how it’s financed, in the United States.

But specifics about what the bill would do – and not do – to patients, doctors, and the insurance industry has become a heated topic.

It’s being debated on cable news, Web sites, and talk radio.

Would the bill eliminate private health insurance?

Is it a slippery slope for euthanasia of the elderly?

Does it force business owners to purchase insurance for employees?

“It’s unnerving and unsettling to know that even the politicians don’t know what’s in the bill,” said Batesville insurance agent Brad Clark.

The bill is opposed by Republicans in Congress, and centrist Blue Dog Democrats – Childers among them – are also opposed to the legislation in its current form.

“I’m not happy with the version that’s out there,” Childers said in the question-and-answer interview that follows. 

In previous weeks, the Blue Dogs balked when liberal Democrat leadership in the House demanded a quick vote on the bill. Instead, the Blue Dogs demanded that Congress recess before casting a vote.

Now back in Mississippi’s 1st District, Childers said he is willing to hear constituents’ concerns – if they’re civil.

During the August recess, some Democratic congressmen are hearing testy opinions from the public over your party’s proposals for healthcare reform. Are those concerns justified?

Certainly the concerns are justified. Now, if a person is willing to speak to me in a civil tone, and talk about concerns they genuinely have, I want to hear from them.

What I’m not interested in, and what I don’t appreciate, is when the other party is busing people to try to be disruptive. That’s what’s unnecessary. We’re trying to help the situation.

Are there any misconceptions about the Democrats’ healthcare plan that need to be corrected?

There a lot of myths out there being spread by those who enjoy spreading falsehoods. I would urge people to go to the Web site and look at the bill. Just because someone sends you something on the Internet, that doesn’t mean that it’s true.

This is only a proposed bill. There are about 10 steps before a bill will ever get to the President’s desk for his signature.

Can you describe what you refer to as “myths” that are being circulated?

I don’t want to get off into the weeds, but (citing an example) that they’re trying to euthanize the elderly. That’s ridiculous. I’m amazed, honestly, that people would fall into a trap and believe that stuff. Please look at the bill. Do not believe mess that people send across the Internet with nothing to back it up.

Do you think some people are using the bill’s description of “end-of-life” issues to reach that conclusion? The Blue Dogs, in your own proposal, also refer to “end-of-life” issues. Maybe that definition deserves further explanation.

Well, it probably does. But here’s the thing: we think the patients should be involved and know what their options are. We just think a patient deserves to know what their options are in their end-of-life care and, quite frankly, doctors are not compensated to sit down and answer questions right now. And they should be.

A doctor’s time and advice are his stock in trade as well, and we think that should be an allowable charge for a physician to sit down with a person when the end of life is near.

Getting back on track about “myths” being spread, can you cite any misinformation put out by the Republicans, or conservative talk radio, that deserves to be refuted?

I’m not going to address those. You know what those are. You’re an educated person. You know what every one of them are. I’m not going to address that.

Where do the Blue Dogs, as a collective group, part ways on the proposed legislation? And where do you part ways individually?

This bill does not work hard enough to cut costs and trim fat off healthcare. That is the number one issue with me.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has shown that there are more than one hundred areas where we can save money on healthcare – where we are not spending out healthcare dollars wisely. We don’t have the luxury of wasting money any more. We just don’t have that luxury. That is number one.

Number two, I think that if you have health coverage and you are happy with it – I’m very firm on this – I think you should be able to keep it. You should not be forced to look at something else if you are happy with what you have.

Number three, we have to have increased competition in the healthcare industry. We have to. You can go on-line today to buy term life insurance and get nine quotes within two minutes. An expansion (of healthcare) that would offer that type of coverage – I would like to see that.

I would like to see people have more choices and I think, when we increase competition, we will see costs of healthcare go down.

Do you think the current legislation decreases competition by making the federal government compete against Blue Cross and other private companies?

Well, again I’m not happy with the version that’s out there. Obviously it doesn’t do anything at this point to warrant getting my support.

Are you saying you agree that the current legislation would squelch competition?

Here’s what I think: It doesn’t do enough to encourage private competition. I’m a free enterprise guy. I say let’s try to get the private sector to step up and do the right thing. If they don’t do the right thing, then Congress can act.

At a town hall meeting in Maryland, an attendee denounced the idea that he would pay a $2,500 penalty, under the current healthcare bill, if he does not purchase health insurance. Is that part of the current legislation or something that’s been misconstrued?

I’m not going to address those questions of what somebody said in Maryland. I could care less what somebody said in Maryland.

What I’m asking is if that’s untrue, why not get the word out –

Here’s the thing. All anyone has to do is pull that bill and look at it. The people of North Mississippi are smart…You know better than some of those things and you shouldn’t be trying to publish stuff like that.

Several pro-life Democrats have said they would refuse to vote for the healthcare bill unless it explicitly excludes public funding for abortion. You were said to be one of those who signed a letter expressing that opinion, correct?

That’s correct. I haven’t changed my mind.

Is that a radical proposal in your opinion – to use public funds to provide abortion services?

Yes, and there are many of us on both sides of the aisle who would not support using public funds for abortion.