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Rep. Dingell speaks on health reform

BY MALLORY JONES
For the Daily
Published February 16, 2009

At a standing room only event yesterday, Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) drummed up support for a bill that would give every American health insurance.

Speaking to a packed crowd in a School of Public Health auditorium — some of whom were redirected into “overflow rooms” — Dingell, whose district includes Ann Arbor, discussed his legislation, H.R. 15: The National Health Insurance Act, which he introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year.

While Dingell said he is optimistic about passing reform legislation quickly, he can only hope that the legislature will reach “a bipartisan agreement.”

“I can tell you that the president has already put national health care coverage into his budget,” Dingell said.

Chris Jennings, former senior health care adviser to President Bill Clinton, said at the event that “stakeholders” in the insurance industry, including physicians, are “begging” for reform.

“The very economic crisis that we face breeds opportunity for comprehensive change,” Jennings said, who is also president of the health policy consulting firm Jennings Policies Strategies, Inc.

In the current economic crisis, Dingell said the need for universal health insurance in the United States is “no longer just a humanitarian concern, it’s a competitive concern.”

If the government were to “pick up the tab” for the health care costs that go into making products like automobiles, U.S. companies would be much more competitive, Dingell said.

“What a shame that the nation that has one of the finest college systems in the whole world and has one of the greatest health care systems in the world can’t provide health care to its people,” he said.

Dingell said $1,600 worth of health care is part of the cost of every American-made car, compared to the $750 worth of steel that goes into each car.

Dingell, who last week became the longest-serving U.S. representative ever, was a co-sponsor of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program that passed in 1997. After former President George W. Bush twice vetoed reauthorizing SCHIP, President Barack Obama signed its reauthorization into law on Feb. 4, 2009.

Marianne Udow-Phillips, director of the Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation, also spoke at the event with Dingell and Jennings. She discussed the heavy burden the current Medicaid system puts on state budgets.

She said in Michigan, 20 percent of the state budget goes toward paying for Medicaid — the eighth highest percentage in the country.