U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder answered questions about proposed health care legislation at a forum Thursday at Reynolds Performance Hall at the University of Central Arkansas.

He explained there are three versions of the proposed bill in progress in three different committees. He summarized the version currently in the House. According to Snyder, it would end bad insurance practices, such as denying customers coverage because of pre-existing conditions and recisions, the practice of cancelling policies that are being paid. It would require all Americans to have health insurance. Government subsidies would be available on a sliding scale for individuals who cannot afford insurance. An exchange would give Americans access to a nationwide pool of providers and greater power to negotiate for the best rate. On the exchange, ratings and premiums could be determined by age and geography but no longer by health status, Snyder said. Finally, a public plan that would be operated by the government has been proposed.

Snyder said he does not think the public option will be part of the final bill, and he does not believe a great number of Americans would sign up for the public option.

Several people attending the forum were in favor of the public option.

A veteran asked Snyder to reconsider his position on the public option. He said he has VA health care, and it is better than the health care he had through his employer. He said he believes the plan cannot work without the public option.

Another man agreed, asking how insurance companies could be expected to reduce insurance costs when health insurance would be mandatory.

Snyder said the exchange will create competition by enabling more people to buy insurance. He said parts of the bill also eliminate some overhead for companies, which will make them more efficient.

One audience member, who said he had attended another of Snyder’s town hall meetings, said he was not satisfied with the congressman’s answer at the last event and so he was asking again.

"Health care is going to affect all of us here. … You have health care. Most of us don’t. Are you actively supporting the public option? That’s the only way we’re going to get health care."

Snyder said "actively" he is not supporting it, although he is keeping an open mind. He said he does not believe there is support for it in the Senate.

"I don’t want to see good things in this bill go down over that issue," he said, noting when more Americans have the ability to buy in the market, insurance companies will be more willing to offer better rates.

The idea of not letting the bill perish for lack of a public option was one Snyder would return to.

One woman said several of her family members had their health care plans cancelled or were denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. She said the public option is needed.

"If the cars needed help, so do these people who can’t afford health care," she said.

Snyder said the practice of denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions would be the first thing to go, along with recisions.

"Regardless of income, we want you to have health insurance," he said. "I think the basic bill, with or without the public option, would have helped you and your family."

Later, regarding the public option, he noted, "My view is, it would be a terrible mistake to reject the whole bill because we didn’t get one part."

Another concern of audience members was the cost of the program.

One woman said, "I don’t see how we can incorporate 47 to 50 million people into a health care system and have it be budget neutral. It’s basic common sense … that you cannot have more and more expenses without having more and more income. How can it remain budget neutral when only so many people are paying?"

Snyder said, "Paying for it is the key question." He added there is a surcharge in the bill on the highest level of income as well as work being done to find savings.

Another member of the audience declared the plan socialism, saying companies will save money and take away the option for their employees to buy insurance, forcing them to take the public option. 

Snyder disagreed with the comment about socialism.

"We’re going to regulate the insurance industry. We’re going to give you subsidies so you can go into the market. What we have right now is a system that’s not working for tens of millions of Americans. We’re going to help them go into the marketplace," he said.

One man asked whether there would be minimums for government assistance. Snyder said subsidies will be 400 percent of the poverty level. In Arkansas that equals $88,000 per year for a family, he said.

A woman raised the question of what will be basic coverage and who will make the decision. Snyder said the decision will likely be made by a non-political group representing consumers and providers.

On the issue of the cost, one man mentioned that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have all been far more expensive than anticipated when they were created.

"When you say it’s revenue neutral, how can we trust you, when the three previous programs have come in hundreds of percent over?" he said.

Snyder said the projections will be imperfect. However, he said, "We have some recent history, in ’97-2000 (of government surpluses)."

Working on deficiencies in Medicare and the federal government could lead to having savings again, he said. Improvements in technology could also help drive down the expense of health care. 

"We will do the best job we can now. We can’t say, ‘I don’t know what it’s going to cost to do something, let’s do nothing,’" he said.

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by e-mail at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)