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Larsen answers questions on a variety of issues at Marysville Rotary luncheon

From left, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen speaks with Marysville Rotarians George Pepelnjak and Gordy Bjorg at the Jumbo Buffet Asian Grill and Sushi Bar Sept. 2.   - Kirk Boxleitner
From left, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen speaks with Marysville Rotarians George Pepelnjak and Gordy Bjorg at the Jumbo Buffet Asian Grill and Sushi Bar Sept. 2.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen met with members of the Marysville Rotary at their Sept. 2 luncheon, at the Jumbo Buffet Asian Grill and Sushi Bar, to update them on the progress of health care and other legislation.

Larsen noted that he’d received record turnouts at town hall meetings held at the Everett Transit Station and Memorial Stadium, identifying these attendance levels as evidence of people’s concern with the health care debate.

“I’ve been called a liar at these meetings before I even had a chance to say anything,” Larsen laughed. “Fortunately, as one of eight kids, I’m used to it.”

Larsen described the current 19-month recession as the longest since the Great Depression, and characterized the current economic downturn as “the largest decline in economic growth in 50 years.” At the same time, he pointed to recent improvements in the Gross Domestic Product, as well as a drop in the national unemployment rate in July.

“We haven’t recovered yet, but we’re stable,” Larsen said. “It’s not going to be real until people start getting their jobs back.”

Larsen made the case that the Recovery Act has softened the blow of the bad economy, citing economists quoted in publications such as the Wall Street Journal who have asserted that the third-quarter GDP growth of roughly 3 percent could have been a contraction of almost as much without the stimulus package.

Larsen referenced the roughly $4 billion in federal funds going toward roads, bridges, highways and Community Transit projects in the state of Washington, including 80 percent of the $4 million total cost of the park and ride station currently under construction at Cedar Avenue and Grove Street.

Larsen then detailed the inequity of current Medicare reimbursement, under which Medicare providers in Washington and 16 other states are reimbursed at lower rates than in other states in spite of providing “higher quality” care. He hopes to enact reforms which will reward more efficient providers, thus giving providers in other states incentive to change the ways they provide care.

Larsen’s first question was from a local realtor who was curious about the possibility of allowing small business associations to pool their resources across state lines, in a manner similar to that of unions, to reduce their insurance rates. While such an idea is not included in the current House bill, Larsen explained that the bill would provide tax credits to small businesses to help them purchase health care for their employees. Larsen also floated the idea of a “health insurance exchange,” designed to foster competition between insurance options on a nationwide scale with the intent of driving costs down.

Mike Shepard expressed concerns about what a health care bill would do to the “state-of-the-art care” at treatment facilities such as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, if passed “as is.” Larsen countered that the health care bill would not be passed “as is,” and while he praised the United States for having the best health care system in the world, he also emphasized the importance of improving it.

“I’ve spoken with the folks at places like the Providence Medical Center in Everett and they haven’t expressed great concern over it,” Larsen said. “In fact, Providence already handles double-digits of millions in uncompensated care. It has the number one visited emergency room in Washington. You’re already carrying that cost and I’m sure they appreciate it,” he laughed, “but it adds to the cost of your premium. By insuring the uninsured, it takes the burden off of your rates. They don’t see any negatives in their care.”

Marysville optometrist Dr. Kim Kron then asked Larsen to “clear up some of the misconceptions on the Internet” about health care. Larsen responded by recalling a popular refrain at town hall meetings where attendees often tell him, “I want the health care plan that you have.”

“I have a standard-option Blue Cross plan, with co-pay medical,” Larsen said. “The dental sucks,” he laughed. “Even though it’s cheaper for me to see a dentist out there [in Washington, D.C.], I get my dental care here.”

Larsen elaborated that his health care plan is not exclusive to members of Congress, but is instead standard for federal employees. He acknowledged that federal employees are eligible for pensions, according to “a defined formula,” but he refuted claims that “when I retire, I’ll receive my salary until I die. The only way I’d receive my salary until I died would be if I died in office,” he laughed.

When Marysville YMCA Executive Director Wendy Bart suggested measures to prevent obesity and chronic disease, Larsen agreed with the need to maintain health, which he believes could be accomplished in part through flexible-model pilot programs. In response to a follow-up question about incorporating aspects of programs such as the Marysville Healthy Communities Project on a broader scale, Larsen admitted that the bill “doesn’t go that in-depth.”

Even before he spoke, Paul Blowers provoked good-natured smiles from Larsen and the other attendees who were anticipating that Blowers’ questions would show Larsen little mercy. Blowers condemned the takeover of Congress by radical liberals, whom he blamed for inflating the deficit to a projected $2 trillion, and asked Larsen how much of America’s debt is being held by China.

“First, I would say that it wasn’t a takeover, but an election by a majority,” said Larsen, who also corrected Blowers’ deficit estimate by saying that it was only $1.6 trillion, which Larsen conceded was “still a lot.” Larsen presented health care reform as a means of reducing that deficit. As for China, Larsen freely acknowledged that countries such as China, Japan and Germany do hold significant amounts of America’s debt, but he asserted that this makes them “wholly invested in ensuring that the U.S. economy does well. They have a confidence in the dynamism of the U.S. economy that I share, and that I hope other Americans share.” This was met with applause from the room.

Ron Young asked the last question of the luncheon, when he inquired about why the significant cost of “end-of-life issues are not being discussed.” Larsen pointed out the degree of anxiety that many Americans already feel about the health care debate, to which he believes end-of-life issues act as a multiplier.

“That being said, let me bust a myth right now,” Larsen said. “If ‘death panels’ were actually in the health care bill, it would be stupid, but they’re not. Instead, if a patient were to choose to consult a physician about end-of-life issues, they would be reimbursed. Nobody would be forced into anything.”

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