Merkley tackles concerns about health care plan

By Dick Mason, The Observer August 30, 2013 10:32 am

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley talks with Margaret Meade of La Grande at the conclusion of a town hall meeting Wednesday at Island City Elementary School. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley talks with Margaret Meade of La Grande at the conclusion of a town hall meeting Wednesday at Island City Elementary School. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)

ISLAND CITY — President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was a topic of concern during a town hall meeting conducted by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley Wednesday at Island City Elementary School. 

Merkley, D-Oregon, was told there is anxiety about the health care plan because few people know how it will affect them. 

“I have many very intelligent friends and they do not understand it,” said Doran Hopkins of Summerville. 

Merkley said he appreciates why many people are concerned and fearful of the plan but believes their worries are unfounded.

“They have heard there will be a government takeover of health care,” Merkley said. “They will be surprised to learn that is not so.”

The senator said instead people signing up for the plan will be surprised to find they will have many insurance providers to choose from in an exchange. The providers will be competing to provide the best coverage because they want to win people over.

Merkley said many in Congress, including himself and his staff, will be on the plan. This is important, the senator said, because it will give those in Congress a first-hand look at how the plan is working as it is phased in.

Merkley said a big plus of the plan is that it will allow those with preexisting conditions to obtain health insurance. This will be welcome news to many Americans trying to obtain health insurance.

“Fifty percent of those (age) 40 and over have pre-existing medical conditions,” Merkley said. 

Merkley said he supports the Affordable Care Act because it will make it easier for many people to receive early and preventative health care. This means many will receive health care before a condition becomes serious, preventing them and their health care providers from incurring major expenses.

The civil war in Syria was another hot topic the senator addressed in his town hall. Merkley was asked if he supported the use of military force against Syria, if it is determined that its government recently used chemical weapons against its own people. Merkley said that if it is determined that this happened then something must be done.

“I would like to see an international response,” Merkley said. 

Merkley would be opposed to sending troops into Syria but might support sending missiles to knock out bunkers where chemical weapons are stored. 

Merkley, however, urged the use of extreme caution before any military intervention.

Merkley, of Portland, also addressed the issue of higher education and the need to make college more accessible to many.

“Every child should receive the message that a pathway to college is available to them,” Merkley said.

The senator said he is alarmed at the growing number of people who are saddled with enormous debt due to college loans. This debt is a serious burden which can weigh people down for decades.

“It is a millstone,’’ Merkley said.

Merkley said he supports having Oregon explore “The Pay It Forward’’ concept for college tuition. Through it, students would go to one of the state’s four-year universities for free and then pay for it with a percentage of their salary for the next 25 to 30 years. The Oregon Legislature passed a bill earlier this year which will explore the concept. 

One person in the audience said he opposed the plan because when the economy is struggling universities would receive less money from graduates who went to college on “Pay It Forward’’ because their income will be less. 

Merkley acknowledged that “Pay It Forward’’ may have flaws.

“I don’t know if it would work well but we need to explore ideas (for addressing the student loan debt issue),” he said.