Written by Wendy Karpel Kreitzman Friday, 20 November 2009 00:00
“Happy is a relative word,” said U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, when asked if he is happy with the health care bill recently passed in the House of Representatives. Meeting with the Anton Newspapers’ editors last week, the congressman said, “I’m glad the bill passed … but we could have done better.” Congressman Ackerman said that the bill is not his “ideal,” but that at least this was “progress.”
Elaborating further, the congressman said that he would have voted for “portable health care.” He went on to say that he believes it is “essential” for people to be able to keep their health care when they become ill and it is important for everyone to be able to get health insurance even with “pre-existing conditions.”
Asked if he knew what President Barack Obama thought, Congressman Ackerman said that he felt that the president was “pleased,” and, “unlike Hillary Clinton had done” years ago, the president had given the “basic parameters” for health care … “and then we did it.” But Congressman Ackerman then noted that “The Senate can come up with a completely different product.”
Congressman Ackerman expressed his “disappointment” that abortion and a woman’s right to choose was not included in the House bill.
The congressman continued on the subject of the health care bill, stating that there were many aspects he did like, though, including the fact that this “critical” bill gives insurance coverage to more people, “96 percent or 97 percent of American citizens.” The congressman also appreciates the “portability” provided in the bill and that the bill “tackles fraud, abuses and waste.” As well he says the bill’s inclusion of covering pre-existing conditions is important, as is coverage for children up to 26 years of age.
What does Gary Ackerman not like about the health care bill that passed the House? He is not at all happy that abortion is not included, stating, “I shouldn’t make such a decision for anyone … we’re sliding backwards … I’m a big believer in choice and the government does not belong there, with very personal choices … the government should not decide when life begins …” Unfortunately, he added, “the majority of the House is not pro-choice.”
Congressman Ackerman then turned to his concern that the public is not learning the true facts related to health care coverage: “There is so much misinformation out there.” He explained that he believes that his job as a representative is “not to just take votes,” but that his “responsibility is to use my best judgments on behalf of my constituents … because they’re not always right.” An example of this, he said, is national security. “I look at it (national security) all the time.”
What Congressman Ackerman definitely does not want is “high cost” for insurance. However, this does not stop him from supporting universal health care. He told the Anton editors: “Some are comfortable to do nothing, because they have health care. People without health insurance are our dependents … they all had health care at emergency rooms, they had health care but not health coverage.” The congressman explained that it should actually be a lower cost to insure all legal residents than to continue to pay for health care that is not covered by insurance. And, he added, if this country does nothing about universal health coverage, the costs will increase dramatically in the coming years. “The cost is high for doing nothing,” the congressman stated.
Congressman Ackerman also added that this country should want health coverage for others, “not just for economic reasons.”
The congressman did note that the House bill does not cover illegal aliens. However, he did say that he would not want to see a sick, illegal child go untreated “and then sit next to my grandchild.” Nor would he want an adult illegal alien become sick, go untreated, and go out into public places.
Congressman Ackerman has confidence in health coverage run by the government. He explained that the proposal is not for a government insurance plan, but a plan administered by the government in place of an insurance company. “The insurance companies are what we are changing … the (health care) providers will still be the same,” he said. He further explained that insurance companies are charged with making a profit, while this is not the case with the government. Congressman Ackerman further emphasized that the government will hold “no medical functions.”
The congressman also stressed that the government currently does well running Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. “The only reason those costss are high is because the public wants low costs on their part,” he said. Again he was forceful in stating that “There is no profit motive for government … and there is huge savings because the government can do it cheaper.”
Congressman Ackerman did then explain that it is not the intention to put insurance companies out of business, though. He said that the bill calls for small companies to be able to go to the government for insurance choices, but that large companies cannot “throw off employees.”
For the uninsured, the bill calls for them to be able to go to the government for the public option, to look at the pool of insurance plans that is offered. The insurance, he said, will be regulated by the states.
There is currently a debate on whether or not an uninsured person can opt for a plan through another state. Congressman Ackerman also said there is “talk” of states getting together, in a group, to offer plans.
“We’re not done yet,” Congressman Ackerman said.
Turning to a few other issues, Congressman Ackerman said that he is working on helping victims of convicted Ponzi scheme financier Bernie Madoff. Many Madoff victims live in the congressman’s 5th Congressional District, the congressman reported. Many, he said, live in the Town of North Hempstead.
Touching on the war, Congressman Ackerman said that the goal in Afghanistan is the desire for “a country with democratic principles,” but this presents a problem: “We can’t leave and we can’t stay.” He said that Afghanistan is not necessarily a problem to the United States, but it would be if it fell to the Taliban.
A “huge problem” to the United States, according to the congressman, is South America. “No one is watching,” he said. Congressman Ackerman spoke of a “huge mosque” being built and he expressed concern that such a site could draw terrorist groups to the area. He said that the area “must be stabilized,” with economics, education, and a diplomatic piece.” The troubled areas, Congressman said, “must be willing to restructure their countries with international help.”
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, the vice chairman of the full Foreign Affairs Committee, and he serves on the Financial Services Committee, where he sits on two subcommittees.
He is currently serving his 14th term as U.S. Representative for the 5th Congressional District.