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Senator Kohl is Taking Your Health Care Reform Questions Right Now

category_bug_politics.gif Last week, several other elderbloggers and I were given the opportunity to speak by telephone with aides to Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid about the health care reform bill that is now in mark up with the Senate Finance Committee before it moves to the Senate floor.

Now it's your turn.

Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin has agreed to answer some questions about health care reform exclusively from Time Goes By readers.

Kohl, a Democrat, has served in the Senate since 1988, and what is important to us (who don't live in Wisconsin) is that he is chairman of the permanent Senate Special Committee on Aging, making him strongly familiar with elder issues. His Senate website is here and there is more about his background at Wikipedia.

Leave your questions in the comments below. They can be about aspects of the bill, Senate and Congressional procedure in regard to the bill or Senator Kohl's points of view on it.

The questions will be sent to the senator's office early tomorrow morning and he will answer as many as possible in a video that will be posted here on Friday.

Be sure to include your first name with your question along with your city and state. And if someone has already asked your question, go ahead and repeat it. It will help the senator know what is uppermost in our minds.

To get your juices flowing, here's a White House video of Vice President Joe Biden passionately defending against the “malarkey” that is being promulgated about health care reform and Medicare. “Fight like hell for the things you believe in,” he says. “Fight for what's right.” [5:04 minutes]

Now, get crackin' with your questions. This is a terrific opportunity to let the Senate know what elders care about on this contentious and critical issue.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Quiet Meandering Stream


From Nancy, Baltimore MD:

Most people, including me, support a public option health plan. I would like to know why the Congress won't take an already successful infrastructure that provides millions of people, sound health coverage, and convert this into the public option for all? I am speaking of Medicare for all.

If this infrastructure is used, and full prescription and preventive medicine is covered, there will be a perfect package to help all citizens have access to good health coverage. And, by doing this, there will be no question of discrimination in coverage against elders as it relates to health coverage. It should also save the government money in not having to set up yet a separate entity. Thank you

Senator Kohl:

There has been much debate and rhetoric surrounding the health care debate and its affect on the elderly, especially with regard to Medicare. But I have heard or read absolutely nothing regarding the “fact” that numerous primary care physicians are declining to accept new patients on Medicare in large numbers due to the steadily declining reimbursement fees by Medicare. It is my understanding that those reimbursement rates are going to continue to drop. Couple that with the fact that the population as a whole may be facing a serious shortage of primary care physicians in the coming years, this action seems to seriously aggravate an already growing problem. Is there “anything” in this new plan that goes toward addressing this very serious issue?

Alan G
Little Rock, Arkansas

(Thank you for taking the time to address our personal concerns regarding the health care issue and thanks also to Ronni for arranging this ‘question-answer’ session.)

From Steven, Orland CA

I'm very disappointed that Single Payer was seemingly removed from the debate early on. And it appears that the Public Option is headed that way as well. Same with 'Medicare for All'. I would like to see all of these options debated fully and not swept under the table.
Thank you.

Dear Senator Kohl,

Why can we always find money for defense projects,wars. bailouts for banks and insurance companies,
etc. and can never find the money to fund health insurance for the American people?

Please do not let this bill come to the floor without a public option.

This is a moral issue.


I want to follow up on those who support single payer or, at the least, a public option. Original Medicare has a private option, and it is more costly to the program than traditional Medicare is. Why, if private insurance is so good and so much cheaper, must it be subsidized? Why are insurance companies given so much power in this discussion?
Dodgeville, WI

First, thank you, Senator Kohl.

What are you going to do, given your role as chair of the Committee on Aging, to ensure that elders who have to make a choice regarding that confusing Part D get help making that decision? As a single person, no kids, and daughter of a woman who died of Alzheimer's, I want to know who is going to make my decisions if I lose my ability to do so?

#2 - Why hasn't the ban against buying prescription drugs from other countries been lifted already? That would help millions of people today - esp. those who, like me, live near Canada.

Mary, Buffalo, NY

Dear Senator Kohl -- I know our system was designed with checks and balances that were supposed to ensure that no majority can easily run over a minority. And that is a thing to value.

But the health care debate has come to look as if the US Senate has become a perpetual road block to progress. Senators representing a minuscule fraction of us (less than 15 percent) are blocking majorities through a combination of pivotal positions acquired through sheer seniority and a general deference to anti-democratic rules like the filibuster.

When this country has made progress, as for example in civil rights legislation, it has usually involved making our institutions more democratic rather than acquiescing in their anti-democratic features. That's what it took (reducing the power of the Judiciary committee and the filibuster) to get a voting rights act.

Will it take changing the Senate rules to get some version of Medicare for All or Single Payer? Should we be agitating you folks for that? All the half measures our system serves up are absurdly inefficient or cumbersome work-arounds. Those were luxuries we could perhaps survive when this country as splendidly rich and isolated. But in this time of global competition and climate crisis, can we afford to do policy badly to protect dwindling minorities' prejudices? How do we move forward?

Jan, San Francisco

Assuming a bill passes this year when will we start to see results? When will insurance companies not be allowed to refuse to cover you because of a pre existing condition. Will rates be exorbitant for someone like my daughter who has diabetes. When will all Americans be covered?

Thank you Senator Kohl

Dear Senator Kohl,

Thank you for your promise to answer questions regarding health care reform. I'm afraid that the issues get muddier every day. Do you see a single payer plan as better than the current situation? Do you see a "public option" as better than a single payer plan? Can you be convinced to compromise and support Senator Snowe's so-called "trigger" option? Where do you stand on buyer co-operatives as an alternative to a public option?

I'm about to turn 65 and for months I have been flooded by information from the insurance companies urging me to enroll in one or another of their Medicare supplementary programs. Are the private health insurance providers able to offer such sweet deals on Medicare supplements because they receive government funds? The Medicare program is remarkably efficient in processing claims with a minimum of overhead. What sense does it make to offer the corporate insurance companies a cut of taxpayer revenue when the programs could be offered less expensively through Medicare?

Is there a chance that you will support a universal health care program that essentially extends Medicare coverage to all age groups?

In your role as chairman of the Committee on Aging have you addressed questions of age discrimination? Does it make sense to you that Medicare itself, absent equal coverage for younger people, is an age discriminatory program? How would you like to kill two birds with one stone and simply extend Medicare coverage to everybody?

I'll close with an issue that threatens to muddy the waters further. Opponents of health care reform have raised the red herring issue of coverage for illegal immigrants. Do you think the issue of illegal immigrants possibly benefiting from a decent US health care system will be enough to derail meaningful legislation?

Thank you for your attention to these concerns. I look forward to viewing your response later this week!

Frank Paynter
Oregon, Wisconsin 53575

It is frightening to think of coops run by the same health care executives who now manage health services delivery. And they will be invited to do so. They know how. They are experienced in finding ways to deny or reduce coverage. We want single payer. The government option is a compromise. Stop the dying. Tell your collages to do the right thing. Beverly Johnson Marianna,Pa.

Senator Kohl,

Why doesn't the government get the budget, overall insurance reform, and medicare costs in line first and demonstrate that it can be efficient before implementing a public option?

John in Maryland

I am not naive enough to think compromise won't be the end result of the Big Health Care Debate. My suspicion is that in order to appease all guests at the table, Congress will water down any real reform to the point that it is unpalatable and without real substance.

It is obvious the Single Payer option is already off the menu and that, to me, was the main meat course, though I fully expected it to get shot down by the power players.

As (albeit lower) middle-class taxpayers, my husband and I are fearful that because we FINALLY have fairly decent health care through our employers (though I don't consider it "gold-plated"), we will be penalized with a hefty tax on our benefits. If that comes to pass, our current insurance would become unaffordable and we would be forced to switch it for whatever watered down version of public health insurance Congress crafts.

How do you propose to prevent such a middle-class tax scenario AND more importantly, can Congress pass legislation that truly provides a viable public option - one that doesn't result in months long wait lists to get into an "approved" clinic?

Will a public option be portable to use with a choice of private physicians as opposed to being forced to utilize our local overwhelmed public Medicaid case-heavy clinics? (It is an unbelievable nightmare to navigate through that quagmired system.)

We have been in the "uninsured" camp before. Prior to our marriage, my husband was a single dad raising two kids on his own and without an employment insurance option as well as making just enough money to keep him out of a Medicaid option. He was forced to delay treatment for skin cancer for several years.

Ultimately he had to have a palm-sized area of facial skin removed and subsequently grafted for a basal cell carcinoma - a major surgery that could have been avoided with twice-yearly exams and office procedures.

Skin cancer treatment is ongoing for my husband, and if for whatever reason he should lose his health insurance, the pre-existing clauses on most current policies would most likely result in another expensive procedure down the road.

Can Congress truly make the pre-existing clause debacle go away?

And a heartfelt "Thank you" for offering a real person-to-person conversation regarding our concerns, Senator Kohl.


I'll close with an issue that threatens to muddy the waters further. Opponents of health care reform have raised the red herring issue of coverage for illegal immigrants. Do you think the issue of illegal immigrants possibly benefiting from a decent US health care system will be enough to derail meaningful legislation?

Frank, this is a major issue here in Texas. I wouldn't want it to cause a "derailment" either, but it is no small part of the health care fiasco in the US, especially for those of us in border states.

My own local public health/Medicaid clinics cannot continue at the present case-load rate that I daresay consists significantly of more than 50% illegals.

Our property tax (which finances the John Peter Smith public clinics and hospital) burden gets larger and larger to accomodate this huge influx of illegals.

In my opinion, the illegal immigrant question is the 200-pound gorilla in the room and will have to be answered in order for any health care debate to go forward - at least from where I sit.

I don't want to deny basic health care for anyone, but the cold hard fact comes down to how much each taxpayer is willing to pay to provide services (both medical and financial) for these desperate illegals?

I will say I can't understand how America can find money to fund big chest-thumping military operations, but yet fails to provide day-to-day healthcare for its citizens. Unfathomable.

The more amendments that are added to the current legislation, the more costly and confusing it becomes. We are already burdened with an outrageously costly system and it will become more so. Why must there be profit in health care? Why are insurance industries involved at all? Why can't this big, wealthy country study the system in other countries and use the best of their solutions? It would be far cheaper for the country, industry and individuals if we had a single payer system like France. Why can't this be considered at this late date? And if this isn't to be considered, will you push for the next best thing - the Public Option?

One further question; why will it take longer to put any reform in place than it did for us to put a man on the moon?

Thank you, Senator Kohl for showing interest in our opinions and for answering the questions.

Thank you, Ronni, for making this happen.

Everyone here has asked the questions I had but I just wanted to thank Senator Kohl and Ronni for making this possible and wanted to show my support for at the very least, a public option.

Thank you.
Takoma Park, MD

Our government panders to the 20 to 30 plus (?) illegal immigrants allowing them free subsidies from taxpayers in the US. California--a Sanctuary State has one of the worst records that currently languish under the immense burden of near bankruptcy, instead of --ATTRACTING--ICE to illegal business operations. Certain legislators in Sacramento, led by Gilbert Cedillo-D has authored a lame brain resolution condemning any interference in immigration enforcement. Congressman Brian Bilbray-R Calif. reminds Sen. Cedillo that this resolution breaks the laws of the Constitution. “He should look up the separation of powers section and this resolution is nothing more than political posturing.” Cedillo urges President Obama to declare an immediate moratorium on immigration policies and practices until a comprehensive reform of immigration is enacted. The resolution states " The State of California values all of its residents, whether they be citizens, legal residents, or undocumented immigrants, and strives to enable all residents to work and live free from discrimination, exploitation, and repressive federal immigration enforcement.” This man certainly has no love for the legal American worker and should be immediately discarded from office as his words are a form of treachery to the jobless people hurting.

Why wouldn't certain legislators want health care for foreign labor, because they have an over abundance of illegal immigrant families to financially support? Our own government is so absorbed in protecting every other countries border? They remain unconcerned to our poor replica border fence that should have been a two-tier periphery, with border patrol surveillance lanes in between, as originally planned by Rep. Duncan Hunter. Every time a good enforcement plan is written, it’s methodically cut to pieces by pro-illegal worker politicians and open border fanatics. Though we spend billions on our armed forces in foreign lands, the rich countries in Europe just forward token troops and little money: while our nation is literary falling apart at the seams--or its rivets?

Any moment now I expect to hear of yet another collapsing ailing city bridge, deteriorating waterworks, the underground pipes and eroding highway. Our cities are already exhibiting inward decay, but years of neglect by the very people who’s supposed to protect us do nothing? I have reiterated watch "The Crumbling of America" on the History (International) channel in the next few weeks and learn? This is where your tax dollars should be going? We must not allow the Administration as in previous times keep sending our precious tax dollars to other countries. These politicians are deaf, dumb and intentionally blind to the rigors our industrial nation is going through. Not just Democrats, but the Republicans have had their sticky fingers in the bad apple--SPECIAL INTEREST--barrel, where money is plentiful. It's like they are intentionally trying to turn our magnificent country into a third world nation, while making other cheap labor countries, on an even par with our sovereign society as US wages tumble? Then Again the Council of Foreign Relations have been amplifying its agenda of free movement of cheap labor through North America for years?

Most of these other lands have been at each others throats for centuries, so why do we expect any metamorphism into something any different? Only change can come from within, not by our nation expending billions of dollars, American lives? We must build our own borders fences, tall and strong and meant to keep out drug dealers, criminal aliens, terrorists and the never ending tracks of illegal aliens. Our politician’s noses are involved in too much foreign policy, while our aging infrastructure implodes. Trillions of dollars are spirited out the country, while we gain little in return. Washington--MUST--start giving back to the jobless American worker by placing a 5 year moratorium on all immigration, even legal? The next politicians should deliver us from any new sinister path to citizenship or better referred to as BLANKET AMNESTY? Follow the "Rule of Law" and not twist it into something else for their own convenience, as it will come back to haunt them at the voting booth. Unless ACORN steps-in with another fed contract and handles sign-ups for the ballot box? In that case will still see absentee ballots for the deceased people, pets and anybody who has learned that you need no government picture ID to sign on to vote.

The 1986 immigration reform bill dismally failed last time and all we inherited was 5 million illegal immigrants that still keep on coming with their impoverished hands out. Anti-Illegal immigrant forces are growing in numbers to stop another travesty. They acknowledge it could end up costing billions, perhaps even trillions of dollars. Nationwide we have seen the advent of closing hospitals and emergency rooms that have been submerged everyday by swarms by penniless foreigners and their families. Yes! We need health care reform. Americans are dying, going bankrupt , falling under the spell of debt collectors. The special interest lobbyists are causing mass hysteria by lying to the people. Many insurance companies are under this bombardment in television, radio and mass media. Their Status quo wants no change to their profits or high flying CEO's making millions of dollars. on patients backs? I want health care reform, for the sake of my step daughter who died of Cancer, because the insurers said it was a pre-existing condition and they couldn't continue to insure her?

It has become an enigma--THAT THE EMPLOYERS WHO HIRE THEM-LEAVE THE MAJORITY OF SICK PEOPLE ON THE STEPS OF EMERGENCY ROOMS. SO THAT THEIR RESPONSIBILITY ENDS THERE? THEY DRIVE AWAY WITH A CLEAR CONSCIOUS? THEN IS LEFT FOR THE TAXPAYERS CHECK BOOK TO PAY THE BILL? THOSE EMPLOYERS SHOULD BE HUNTED DOWN AND HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR EVERY CENT. We have already been warned by the census bureau of overpopulation in the not too distant future. WE now have a very unique deterrent called E-Verify, that is a part of the SAVE ACT and our lawmakers should stop procrastinating and make it permanent for every worker? Washington knows their walking on quicksand, if the try to under fund or spirit away E-Verify this time around? The corrupting influences from the special interest lobby, have failed to induce many lawmakers to table E-Verify. In our future it could have many other uses other than extracting unauthorized labor from the workplace. Once fully installed it could check state drivers license applicants, insurance, school and higher education registrations and hospital admittances.
Americans have been unknowingly paying taxes to underwrite subsidies for the illegal population for decades. This is the biggest draw to American jobs, because the employers who hire them are sentient that taxpayers will foot the bills for education, health food stamps, housing and other government benefit consignments that even as citizens are denied. Keep the phone calls coming at 202-224-3121 LOOK FOR ANSWERS AT NUMBERSUSA, JUDICIAL WATCH & OVERPOPULATION AT CAPSWEB? These websites can identity politicians who actually work for the American people and others whose immigration grading level is unsatisfactory to stay in office? Have you heard about any large ICE raids lately? ICE got the order to cease and desist from the motley Democratic leadership. They are also using their influence to either weaken the federal training program 287 G that gives local police federal right to hold for questioning suspicious individual’s immigration status and to rescind the no-match-letter capability in determining a person’s right to work?

Ronni, I apologize if my comment on illegal immigrants sidetracked the conversation. It is an important issue, but one that can be tackled AFTER health care for all Americans is on its way to being a reality.

All Americans should have access to good quality affordable health AND dental care. Period.

Can we trust Congress to get this right? Are there enough honest and conscientious representatives to stand up to Big Pharma and Big Insurance?

I sincerely hope so.

You said re. immigration... "It is an important issue, but one that can be tackled AFTER health care for all Americans is on its way to being a reality."

I agree, and it sounds like you agree with the point I was making. The ranters on the right fill valuable time and absorb available bandwidth with issues that may be important but need not be debated as part of moving health care reform forward.

Tight budgets, reduced tax revenues and high unemployment amplify our concerns about issues like immigration, but we don't want to be led into a discussion that will blunt our efforts to achieve real health care reform.

Thank you, Senator Kohl, for your interest, time and efforts to solve America’s health care dilemma.

I am writing this after the Senate has denied the single payer option.

First, let me state that I believe that every American citizen should receive health care.

Do proposed cooperatives offer just one more insurance bureaucracy with salaries to middlepersons and have overhead costs above that paid directly to the medical caregiver?

If so, how do cooperatives contribute to paring down healthcare dollar expenses?

How can anyone possibly think there's any realistic expectation health care costs can be reduced as long as we have so many for profit insurance people between the patient and the provider taking a cut of the health care dollar?

For-profit insurance employs additional personnel beyond the patient's doctor, nurse and office billing staff. So does Medicare but there wouldn’t be the multiple duplication of so many functions and personnel since that system is presently operative. Here are just some of the extra costs patients premiums pay for-profit multiple different insurance companies: additional insurance doctors, nurses, office billing staff, ins. company promotional activities, advertising, Congressional lobbyists, non-professional administrative and executive salaries and bonuses, shareholder stock profits.

Wouldn’t we release many much-needed doctors and nurses to directly care for patients through universal health care if none had to be employed in the bureaucracy of the multitude of different for-profit health insurance companies?

Why can't health services be non-profit instead of insurance companies making money on people's sickness?

Why do Americans have to pay so much more for medications than those in other nations?

Why can’t we negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies drug prices for all of the American people as a group to bring down costs?

Why can’t independent pharmacies be allowed by insurance companies to offer the same price and amount of drugs i.e. a 3 month supply instead of just 1 month as mail order drug suppliers? I don’t want my independent pharmacy put out of business as one already has been.

Why aren't all the Senators and Representatives required to accept exactly the same insurance plan they foist off on those Americans among us who are the least able to afford insurance among us?

Why can't we utilize and expand the systems in place for Medicare and the Veterans to provide insurance for all our citizens?

Why don't the President and Congresspersons respond to the wishes of most of the American people and find the courage to enact universal health care? Opponents arguments are specious and many of them know it.

Why are more and more Doctors refusing to accept Medicare patients?

Why do even fewer Doctors and health care facilities refuse to accept Medicaid patients?

Why are more and more medical service providers -- doctors, hospitals, others -- billing patients increasing dollar amounts over and above what Medicare plus the patient's supplemental insurance will pay?

What are our Senators, Representatives and President going to do to resolve these problems?

I am a health care provider and could ask many more questions. I've seen the worst and the best Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance offers.

Jo Ann
Claremont, California


Where is the video of Sen. Kohl answering questions? You said it would be on this website by Friday. It is now Wed.


As I reported on the blog on that Friday, Senator Kohl was delayed in a hearing the day he was to record answers and then out of town. As soon as I receive the video, it will be posted.

Next time, if you're not going to check the blog on the day the video was originally scheduled to be posted, you might take a more pleasant tone in your inquiry.

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