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Rep. Rick Larsen defends health care vote

From left, National Electrical Contractors Association Cascade Chapter Gov. Paul Sorensen, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, NECA Cascade Chapter District Vice President Mel Buttram and President Bruno Padilla chat before Larsen’s question-and-answer session with the group April 6 at the Tulalip Resort Hotel. - Kirk Boxleitner
From left, National Electrical Contractors Association Cascade Chapter Gov. Paul Sorensen, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, NECA Cascade Chapter District Vice President Mel Buttram and President Bruno Padilla chat before Larsen’s question-and-answer session with the group April 6 at the Tulalip Resort Hotel.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

TULALIP — U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen found himself facing an inquisitive audience April 6, when his tour through the 2nd Congressional District took him to a general membership meeting of the Cascade Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, and NECA members put him on the spot about his support for health care reform.

Before he invited questions at the Tulalip Resort Hotel, Larsen admitted the impact to his audience of losing the Merkley amendment in the final health care bill that was passed into law. While the bill requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide health benefits or pay a $750-per-worker fee, the Merkley amendment would have reduced this requirement to more than five employees, and a payroll of at least $250,000, for construction contractors.

Larsen nonetheless defended his vote for the final health care bill because it gives Washington state more equitable Medicare reimbursement compared to other states, and it eliminates insurance discrimination based on age, gender or pre-existing conditions.

“I don’t expect applause,” Larsen said, drawing laughter from the crowd after his explanations were met with silence.

When asked why insurance companies shouldn’t be allowed to conduct their business in the most profitable ways for them, Larsen noted that the recently passed health care legislation was not responsible for the number of insurance rate increases that had already occurred over the years.

“The role of insurance companies used to be less about making profit and more about providing insurance,” Larsen said. “Besides, with 32 million more people being insured under health care reform, it opens up a whole new market for them.”

When asked how these new customers would buy their insurance, Larsen explained that an insurance exchange system would be created, that would allow people to shop beyond their own state lines, and reduce costs by fostering broader competition between insurers. By creating a larger pool of insured people, Larsen sees health care reform as “spreading the risk out” more evenly between them.

“You’re already paying for the uninsured anyway,” Larsen said. “It’s not a line-item on your bills, but it’s about $1,000 per premium.”

Larsen acknowledged that he couldn’t guarantee that health care reform would lower rates, but he asserted that it would go up if no such reforms were enacted.

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