David Brunson of Eagle Point says he wants to see a health care plan make it into law, but finds it confusing trying to figure out what is in the bill. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Jim Craven

Health bill debate reveals differences

A historic health care bill that passed the Senate Monday is either an ill-conceived effort at reform or much-needed relief for those without insurance coverage, depending on whom you talk to.

"Some of it sounds good, some of it doesn't," said David Brunson, 37, of Eagle Point.

Brunson, who brought his three girls to Donut Country in Medford for breakfast Monday morning, had a more favorable attitude than many residents toward the much-debated bill, but he's confused over what's in it.

The bill, which passed a Senate test vote 60-40, has gone through many iterations in recent months and likely will go through more changes before it ever becomes law.

Major differences between the House version of the bill, passed last month, and the Senate's will have to be resolved in the coming weeks before it is sent to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature.

Under the Senate version, 94 percent of Americans would be covered by the plan at a cost of $871 billion over the next 10 years. The House version would cover 96 percent and cost more than $1 trillion.

Brunson said he has heard many fears over the government running health care. But he said the government provides fairly good coverage through Medicare, for military personnel and for U.S lawmakers.

Philosophically, Brunson, who receives coverage through his employer, said he thinks health care is too important not to provide some kind of universal coverage.

"I'm a firm believer that somebody should not be denied health care," he said.

Larry Belau thinks the government should stay out of the health care business. The 60-year-old Ruch resident is a self-employed contractor who pays for any doctor's visits out of his own pocket.

He is worried that the government will make him pay for insurance when he doesn't want it.

"I don't think the government has the right to force anybody to do this," he said.

John Killin, a spokesman for the Independent Electrical Contractors of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., criticized a last-minute amendment inserted into the health bill that he said will harm small construction businesses.

The bill mandates companies with 50 or more employees to provide insurance. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley's amendment requires construction contractors with five or more employees to provide insurance, he said.

"It was literally amended in at the last minute," he said. "We vehemently said, 'No please don't do that to us.' "

Killin said the amendment is being pushed by unions who want to put small contractors at a competitive disadvantage.

Merkley, D-Ore., in an e-mail response, stated he wanted the provision because 90 percent of construction firms employ fewer than 20 workers, leaving most of the employees in the trade without insurance.

Companies that do provide insurance would be at a competitive disadvantage to many businesses that don't provide the coverage, Merkley said. The provision he added would level the playing field, he said.

In addition, taxpayers would be forced to subsidize the health care cost of these employees if this amendment wasn't included, he stated.

Merkley said 64 percent of the organizations representing the construction industry supported the amendment, such as the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America and the National Electrical Contractors Association.

Medford resident Karl Qualls finds nothing to like about the way the health care plan was devised.

"I would be willing to believe that not one senator or congressman has read that foot-thick document," 74-year-old Qualls said.

Qualls doesn't understand why lawmakers wanted to tamper with the current system of health care. He thought they should have devised a plan that addressed only those who aren't covered.

"Don't shove it down our throats," he said.

Don Miller thinks the passage of the health care bill will ruin a lot of political careers in elections this November. "I think the R's are going to trounce a lot of D's," the 81-year-old Medford resident said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

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