Matheson prefers Senate's health reform bill to House's

Published October 30, 2009 6:42 pm
Costs » Utah's only Democrat wants to see provisions to slow spending growth.
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Utah Rep. Jim Matheson predicts Congress ultimately will pass a major health-reform bill, the question is whether he will support it.

Matheson, Utah's lone Democrat in Congress, voted against his party's reform package when it came before the Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year. And he doesn't feel all that warm and fuzzy about the version released this week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"I don't know how much it has really changed from when it came out of committee," he said Friday.

While Matheson expresses skepticism about the House bill, he is quick to praise the Senate measure, which is cheaper and includes more provisions meant to lower long-term growth in health-related spending.

Matheson calls what is known in Washington parlance as bending the cost curve "a top-line issue."

He joined three other leaders of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition in sending a letter to the Congressional Budget Office late Thursday asking for additional information to determine how the House reform bill would affect health-care inflation and the national debt.

Two items meant to curb costs that Matheson would like to see in the bill -- a tax on so-called Cadillac insurance plans and a beefed-up commission to identify Medicare waste -- already are included in the Senate version.

"What they have been talking about over there [in the Senate]," he said, "is probably the right direction."

Matheson also dislikes the idea of a public option, which would be a government-created health plan to compete against private insurers. He argues the bill should include stronger medical-malpractice reforms. And, like the Senate bill, he maintains the House should adopt state- or regional-based health-insurance exchanges in which individuals could shop for coverage online. The House bill released this week includes one national exchange.

Matheson's critiques are minor compared to the views of Utah's two other House members -- Republicans Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.

They rip the legislation as a heavy-handed federal approach that would raise some taxes, hurt doctor-patient relationships and fail to lower costs for individuals or the government.

Bishop and Chaffetz say the federal government should leave reforms largely up to states.

"Creative solutions can happen," Bishop said on the House floor this week, "when the federal government gets off the backs of individuals with their mandates and regulations and out of their pockets with their taxes."

The full House is expected to start debating health reform next week.

mcanham@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">mcanham@sltrib.com

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