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Kohl faces questions in Janesville

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
August 18, 2009
— Both of Wisconsin’s senators came out in support of a government-run health insurance plan Monday.

President Obama, facing political opposition, has signaled that he would be willing to give up a “public option” on health care and would support health care cooperatives instead.


But Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold said they prefer the public option.


“I think it would tend to drive down the cost of health care, which is what we need to do. I hope that it survives,” Kohl said after speaking to the Janesville Noon Rotary Club.


Sen. Russ Feingold, also a Democrat, issued a statement saying that without a public option, the reform would not reduce costs or fix the problems of the existing system.


“I am not interested in passing health care reform in name only,” Feingold said.


Kohl told the Rotary audience that the public option is being taken off the table because of political pressures, along with a requirement that the government negotiate lower prices with drug companies.


“It is so difficult to get something done because of all the lobbying and political pressure and money on both sides,” Kohl said.


Kohl repeatedly pointed out that health care in the United States is the most expensive among the 30 developed countries, at an average $7,290 per person per year versus an average of less than $3,000.


That cost is a “crushing burden on businesses” and leaves no money for employee raises, Kohl said.


When questioners asked about the exploding national debt, Kohl agreed the debt is growing at unsustainable levels, but he said that’s another reason health care costs have to be cut.


Cutting costs and extending health benefits to 50 million Americans who don’t have it should be key goals of the legislation, he said.


Kohl faced sharp, sometimes strident questions from members of the Rotary Club audience. One man had asked how he could trust Kohl to vote correctly on health care when he voted for what the man described as the wrongheaded economic-stimulus bill.


“That’s his third question; go on to somebody else!” someone called out after Kohl responded.


“Yeah!” called out another man.


Outside, a man who said he was denied entrance to the Rotary Club meeting held a sign on the street outside, which said he was a “Retired RN opposed to socialized medicine.”


He said he was Peter Roy of Stoughton.


Al and Melody Teal of Janesville also said they were turned away.


“We have a right to hear. We have a right to petition our government,” Al Teal said.


Melody said the proposed reform “scares us.”


Rotary Club President Mark Lorenz said the club limits attendance to members and their guests, which was what happened Monday.


Lorenz said some media outlets and other organizations mistakenly told people that the meeting would be open to the public, and that’s why people showed up expecting to get in.


Kohl said he is holding meetings around the state that anyone can attend.


Kohl said he has hopes that a bipartisan panel of three senators working on health care will come out with a new proposal this fall and that the president will be able to sign a bill into law before the end of the year.


Kohl said he expected the bill to be “not nearly as dramatic as some might hope, or as some might fear.”


Kohl agreed with a questioner that reform of medical malpractice law be a part of a health care bill, although he warned that studies have shown it would not save as much money as many hope.


He also suggested in order to cut costs that doctors be paid “very nice” salaries instead of being paid for each service they provide.



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