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Election 2004: Senators aren't getting it done
Although the fall elections are several weeks away, its not too early to think about voting to preserve rural healthcare access. Communities such as ours are unable to recruit good physicians to serve a growing population or replace physicians who retire or leave. The two primary reasons for this are inequities in Medicare payments and out-of-control malpractice insurance premiums.
Medicare payments remain nearly 40 percent higher in upstate New York than in Washington, while malpractice insurance rates in Washington State rank among the top 10 nationwide. My malpractice insurance premium doubled last year, despite having been in practice for more than 12 years without a single malpractice law suit. Premiums for health insurance for my employees and myself rose 20 percent last year, but payments from insurers and Medicare continue to fall. My practice is being strangled out of existence.
Senators Murray and Cantwell have repeatedly and consistently voted against legislation to provide the relief that is needed to retain or attract new physicians to practice in Washington State. Ostensibly, equalizing Medicare payment rates amongst the states requires taking funds from New York, California and Florida, the three states with the highest Medicare payment rates. Senators representing Alaska were successful in getting Medicare reimbursement rates increased significantly during negotiations to get the Medicare Prescription Drug Act passed last fall. Apparently, our senators were too afraid of offending Senator Hillary Clintons upstate New York constituents to even ask the same for our physicians in Washington.
Similarly, both Senators Cantwell and Murray have failed to support any legislation to even allow a debate of tort reforms to take place on the Senate floor. Apparently, this too, would be seriously offensive to Senator Clintons friends at the American Trial Lawyers Association.
We need stronger federal representation to protect and restore rural health care access. We need to elect someone who will recognize that there is more to Washington state than the Seattle to Olympia I-5 corridor. We need to elect someone who isnt afraid to offend the residents of upstate New York or any other state in order to advance the interests of constituents here in Washington.
That is why I am endorsing George Nethercutt for the US Senate this fall, and I strongly encourage anyone else who is interested in maintaining or even potentially improving rural health care access to do the same.
Benjamin T. Hu, MD