Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Norfolk Daily News: Health Care on the Minds of Many at Fortenberry Town Hall

Aug 3, 2017
In The News

Even though the repeal of the Affordable Care Act has stalled in the United States Senate, health care was still the leading topic when U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry held a town hall at the Norfolk City Council chambers.

More than 50 people turned out Wednesday evening to listen to Fortenberry share his thoughts on health care reform and other topics, including excessive regulation. He also fielded questions from those in attendance on health care, medical cannabis and several other topics.

Scott Lyon, a farmer from Newman Grove, spoke of his struggles to keep himself and his family covered by health insurance. He is frustrated by the impasse in Washington when it comes to meaningful health care reform.

“It's unclear what's going to happen,” Lyon said. “I think there should be more urgency in Washington and they just don't seem to get it. I don't know what's going on, but they just don't seem to understand the economics that there are people that are hurting out here.”

Fortenberry would like to see farmers, like Lyon, be able to team up with other farmers to form risk pools similar to what businesses do in order to receive discounts when it comes to health insurance.

“Why in the world do we have an individual market to begin with?” Fortenberry said. “Why wouldn't we allow that farmer...to gather with other farmers and form their own set of risk pools, so they get the same discounts that business risk pools get? Why wouldn't we do that?”

Dr. Vlastimil Bazant lived in the former Czechoslovakia before coming to Norfolk to practice dentistry. He would like to see a single-payer health care system where health care was covered by the government.

“If you allow lobbying by the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry, you have a problem, which means expensive care and not necessarily quality care,” Bazant said. He added that the quality of American health care does not rank as high globally as it should.

Fortenberry would like to see a bipartisan solution to the health care issue, especially in light of the failures of partisan efforts by both the Republicans and the Democrats on the topic. He also said that the Congressional leadership cannot drive the issue.

“I think frankly, this has exhausted the country watching all of this,” Fortenberry said. “This is why you see low approval ratings for any of the policies that have come out — some of which are frankly, very innovative and some which are problematic, particularly in the House.

“But nonetheless, with the paralysis of the Senate — with the inability to move anything — I think it potentially creates the conditions...to at least look for overlapping areas, even when there are differences along the political spectrum of what ought to be done with health care.”

Fortenberry wants to see those with pre-existing conditions still receive coverage. One method he advocates for doing that an invisible risk pool, which would keep coverage for pre-existing conditions affordable. He also believes it would encourage insurance companies to compete for thse individuals.

“This was an important policy innovation in the House bill that has been completely overlooked (because of) the other things which were much more controversial,” Fortenberry said. “Basically what you do is anyone who is suffering from a pre-existing condition, or a significant sickness, is given the same rate as anybody in their rated category. Their extra costs are paid by the federal government through a re-insurance program in a manner that is direct to the insurance company and is invisible to the individual.”

Fortenberry also fielded questions Wednesday on the topic of medical cannabis. He said that he is open to taking a further look at the subject — and at Food and Drug Administration research on it — but he is firmly opposed to recreational marijuana.

“Certain sectors of the country have used the idea of medical marijuana to open the gate for recreational marijuana,” Fortenberry said, “or so loosely defined medical marijuana use that it became almost a joke. 'I have a headache — therefore I can get a prescription for this.' Look at Colorado and our attorney general now all tangled up with law enforcement because of the spillover effects of their laws into Nebraska.”

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