Anchorage Daily News: Murkowski slams Dem health-care plans

At a town hall meeting in Chugiak Wednesday night, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski propped up a foot-high stack of paper next to her at the podium -- the 1,900-page health care bill passed by the House last week.

"We can pull this thing back," she told a supportive crowd.

Murkowski, a Republican and an outspoken opponent of Democrat-led health care reform bills, wants much more limited legislation.

She spoke to 150 to 200 people at Mirror Lake Middle School. Unlike previous town halls in Anchorage, where many spoke on both sides of major health care reform, the Chugiak group was overwhelmingly critical of the direction Congress is headed.

"This is a monstrosity," said Harry Young of Eagle River, who said he served 26 years in the military. "It's spun so far out of control. It's about security for the Democratic Party."

"I think we have a pretty darn good health care system now," said Ron Bauers, in from Dillingham. "I want you to continue the good fight."

Ed Singer of Chugiak, a retired teacher, predicted a mass exodus of businesses out of the U.S. if health care bills like the ones being considered in Congress pass.

George Hines, a disabled veteran and a journalism student, asked where in the Constitution it says the government has a right to be in his health care.

"I agree. The government doesn't need to be in the insurance industry," said Murkowski. Pressed further by Hines, she said, "I will not vote for a law that is unconstitutional."

Murkowski told the Chugiak crowd to make themselves heard in Washington.

The U.S. doesn't need such a big and complex bill to reform health care as the one that passed the House, she said. The House bill is estimated to cost $1.2 trillion over ten years, and get insurance coverage to about 36 million people who don't have insurance coverage now.

Murkowski favors multiple smaller bills, such as one that would allow more people to join insurance pools; a measure to allow people to purchase insurance across state lines, and one to guarantee insurance to people with pre-existing health problems.

"We can do this incrementally," she said.

But instead, the Senate is expected to take up a comprehensive health care bill shortly. Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada is drawing up a bill that he says will get to the Senate floor next week. Details of what's in the bill haven't been announced. Two Senate committees have approved different versions.

At a news conference earlier Wednesday, Sen. Mark Begich said he is among Democrats trying to work toward a middle ground on the issue in his party.

"A few of us believe there is a way to craft something to get us in the middle here, make sure the consumer has choices, there's competition and that insurance companies are held accountable," he said.

Murkowski held several town hall events in Alaska during August, including a meeting at Dimond High in Anchorage Aug. 20 that drew 700 people. Begich attracted nearly as many people to one Sept. 25 at Bartlett High, on the other side of town.

People at both meetings were divided, but that was before the House bill had passed, giving people something concrete to look at.

# # #

Source: By Rosemary Shinohara. Originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on November 11, 2009