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Kirk presents rival plan for health care reform
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Staff

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk


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Published: 8/4/2009 12:00 AM

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U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk presented Monday a rival plan for national health-care reform in opposition to the Democratic proposals making their way through Congress. Yet, it was unclear whether it had serious chances of passage or was just a way of presenting him as a self-proclaimed "rational, practical centrist" in his race for the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Roland Burris.

And, his presentation Monday emphasized reservations held by many suburban congressmen.

Kirk's plan, formed with U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and 34 members of the Tuesday Group of moderate Republicans in Congress, would pass a Medical Rights and Reform Act, intending in Kirk's words to "guarantee your right to your doctor" and prevent government interference in that, and would attempt to cut costs through reforms in medical liability and health insurance. Yet, lacking monetary specifics, it was mainly an attack on the proposed $1 trillion plan for health-care reform now being debated in Congress.

"On top of our $1.8 trillion deficit, can we afford another trillion?" Kirk said at a news conference Monday at the Metcalfe Federal Building in Chicago.

He was backed by two medical specialists: Dr. Jay Alexander, a cardiologist, and Dr. David DeBoer, a cardio-thoracic and vascular surgeon. They attacked the high cost of medical-liability insurance and Medicare treatment.

"I don't know how you can possibly do health-care reform without medical-liability reform," Alexander said, adding that medical-liability insurance was the single largest cost outlay to most physicians. "Medical-liability reform is really the way to pay for health-care reform," he said, insisting that reduced costs would be passed on to the consumer.

DeBoer attacked the lack of real Medicare reform in the Democratic plan in Congress and said shortfalls in Medicare payments were being footed by health-insurance companies, doctors and ultimately the individual.

Although he presented his plan as a "bipartisan" proposal, he admitted it had no Democratic backing, blaming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

"At this stage, the speaker is extraordinarily authoritative," Kirk said, "and the penalties for breaking ranks with her are severe."

He said, though, the time was ripe for an alternative proposal. "Right now, you have all 435 (representatives) of Congress and, by the way, 100 senators back home," he said, "and I think they're beginning to hear a number of comments" from constituents.

There's no doubt there's resistance to health-care reform, especially along party lines. U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, said he's heard "incredibly strong and forceful" criticism from constituents. "They're just not convinced that the government-run option is going to be anything other than a prelude to a single-payer system," he said.

U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, a Hinsdale Republican, put out an op-ed piece just last week stating, "We need reform, not revolution," and saying she would work toward "simple reforms" in the system, no doubt along the lines of Kirk's proposal.

Even U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, a Barrington Democrat, said she's heard from voters on both sides and remains "unconvinced" the Democratic plan is worth the cost.

Yet U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a Batavia Democrat, was more supportive. "After listening to the concerns of families and meeting with businesses, Congressman Foster is convinced we have to improve the way health insurance is provided," said a statement from his office. "We need to make changes to cut costs and cover those with pre-existing conditions."

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, was slated to appear at a rally boosting health-care reform today at Federal Plaza in Chicago, as the Illinois Health Care Justice Campaign urged proponents to call lawmakers, saying critics were flooding phone lines and supporters need to do the same.