McCaskill addresses health care concerns

The health care discussion remained controlled, but tensions ran high.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., addresses constituents at a town hall meeting Monday in Moberly. She held the meeting as part of a statewide tour to answer questions about national health care reform.

MOBERLY — U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., fielded questions from mostly angry constituents concerned about the cost and impact of health care reform legislation during a town hall meeting Monday at the Moberly Area Community College.

The Democratic senator held the meeting as part of a statewide tour to answer questions about what pending legislation would do if it were passed. She was scheduled to hold similar town halls Monday in Hannibal and Kansas City.

At Monday's town hall, McCaskill said all the different health care bills being considered by Congress are still in the committee stage, far from being voted on or signed by President Barack Obama.

McCaskill tried to set a civil tone from the beginning of the forum.

"You're all here because you care deeply about your country, you deserve my deference and respect and that's what you're going to get," she said.

Despite this disclaimer, many constituents came with complaints about what they had heard some bills would do if they were passed and about the overall cost of health care reform. At some points during the meeting people began yelling complaints at McCaskill, forcing her to call for decorum.

One issue raised during the town hall was rescission, a practice in which health insurance companies drop customers due to a previously undisclosed minor pre-existing condition to avoid paying for large medical bills.

Melanie Edwards, of Sheridan County, said she fears her health insurance company is looking to cancel her insurance after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December.

Edwards said her insurer, HTH Worldwide, has refused to pay about $100,000 in medical bills related to her treatment and she said they are looking for minor reasons in her medical history to void the contract.

"I just want to know what Senator McCaskill plans to do about situations like mine," Edwards said. "Today, I had to speak because I know a lot of people are being impacted."

McCaskill said after the meeting that senate legislation aims to prevent outcomes like Edwards' by allowing consumers to keep their insurance when they change jobs, move to another state or become ill.

Even if HTH does not drop Edwards or price her out of coverage, she said she does not think she will have any future insurance options because breast cancer is seen as a pre-existing condition.

"I feel victimized and discriminated against," Edwards said.

Columbia resident Richard Dutton asked McCaskill to explain how private insurance plans could compete with a government-funded insurance plan, or public option.

"Tell me why a 'public option' would be good," Dutton said.

McCaskill said having a constrained public option would actually reduce national health care costs over time by improving preventative care available to those without private insurance.

She said without that kind of care, uninsured families often wait until a major health problem forces them to go to an emergency room. She said those costs as passed on to insurance customers as a sort of hidden tax, amounting to a $900-$1,200 per year for the average insured family.

McCaskill finished the meeting by emphasizing she would vote for whatever bill she thought best served her constituents and not the political agendas of the president or congressional voting blocs.

She said above all her job was to represent Missouri.

"If I disappoint you, you'll have a chance to fire me in two years," McCaskill said to widespread applause.

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