Benishek hosts town meeting

HOUGHTON – The Affordable Care Act was the top issue for constituents at a town hall meeting by U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek in Hancock Monday.

Benishek, R-Iron Mountain held the mid-day meeting at the American Legion Post 186 in Hancock.

Health care reforms are needed, Benishek said, but he favors solutions such as tort reform and being allowed to buy insurance across state lines, as with car insurance.

Benishek attacked $716 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next 10 years as a result of the ACA. That would come in the form of reduced reimbursements to hospitals and private insurers. It would include $2 billion to hospitals in northern Michigan, and $68 million to hospitals in Houghton County.

“If we cut $68 million over the next 10 years … it’ll be very difficult for them to stay open,” he said.

Benishek said he had also been working on improving care for veterans, saying the Veterans Affairs hospital system has become a “bureaucratic mess.” The average veteran faces a two-year backlog on their claims, Benishek said.

Benishek is sponsoring a bill that would identify the manager responsible for complying with the inspector general’s criticisms, and installing consequences if the problems aren’t corrected.

The VA also doesn’t have a plan to coordinate the hiring of physicians across the country, Benishek said.

“The inspector general has told them over the last 30 years, eight separate times, that they need to have a central plan, and the VA has agreed … but they’ve never done it,” he said.

Several audience members also addressed the ACA, including its legality and the recent delay of the employer mandate.

Employers with more than 50 full-time employees had originally been slated to need to provide insurance by Jan. 1, 2014; in July, the Obama administration pushed back the requirement by a year.

Benishek disapproved of what he called “selective enforcement of the law” by not also delaying the mandate for employees. At the same time, he said, the delay is a positive sign.

“I think the longer we can put off any implementation of the law, the better,” he said.

One audience question dealt with the growing difficulty of getting House Republicans to act in unison. Benishek agreed, comparing it to “getting 230 frogs in a wheelbarrow.”

For a recent example, look at the farm bill, Benishek said. In June, a farm bill that reduced funding for food stamps by $20 billion over 10 years was voted down, partially by Republicans who thought cuts didn’t go far enough.

The House last month passed a bill omitting the food stamp funding. The equivalent Senate bill retained the food stamp portion, including $4 billion in cuts. House Speaker John Boehner declined to appoint members to a conference committee to reconcile the two bills.

If no new bill is passed, funding will remain at the previous year’s levels, Benishek said, negating the proposed cuts.

“When you have only one (chamber of government), you have to get more incremental improvements instead of saying, ‘Nothing’s good enough unless it’s perfect,'” he said.

Asked about mining, Benishek, whose father was killed working in the mines, said he doesn’t trust mining companies “farther than I can throw them.”

But he said he still supports mining projects proposed in the area.

“I don’t think that we should allow them to run amok, but I think that we can have a good environment and a mining economy in the Upper Peninsula and have both,” he said.