Our two local Democratic congressmen last Monday stuck up for the Affordable Care Act before a not particularly friendly audience — a small-business summit in Saratoga Springs.
One defender was Bill Owens of Plattsburgh, who has now been elected three times from a rural and remote district that sweeps across northern New York from Champlain to Ontario, and ought to be solidly Republican if you go by the numbers.
Nationally, the GOP still thinks it will get him. Just Wednesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee took a shot at Owens for not defending the health care reform popularly called Obamacare.
It must be nobody from the NRCC was at Skidmore College, where both Owens and Paul Tonko stood by the law, large parts of which won’t take effect until early 2014. (Actually, Owens strongly defends the law on his website, too.)
Clark Brink, who owns several McDonald’s restaurants, pressed the congressmen on how, in his view, the costs of health care and uncertainty about the new law are impeding small business.
“Individuals like myself are finding ourselves frustrated with this law, trying to do the right thing, understanding that it is the law,” Brink said. “It is holding back small businesses, businesses that would like to grow.”
The last sentence pretty much sums up a central Republican criticism of the law.
But Owens told the audience not to pass judgment yet, since the state-based health care insurance exchanges aren’t up and running yet. The exchanges, he said, “will bring a more competitive market.”
The exchanges will be open to small business owners looking to cover their employees, and to currently uninsured individuals.
As exchanges open, Owens expects health insurance providers to come out with new kinds of coverage, insurance products that rely on primary patient care. The insurance companies will compete for business in the exchanges, creating an incentive for them to hold premiums down, he said.
“The focus is on preventive care,” Owens told the several dozen people in Skidmore’s Gannett Auditorium. “If we’re going to bend the cost curve, it has to be through preventive care, reduced hospitalizations.
“This is a process. It will take time to get done,” he added.
Tonko also defended the reforms, but he’s been a staunch defender of President Obama’s health care plan since he was first elected to Mike McNulty’s former seat in 2008.
“For anyone to suggest that the status quo was working, I would challenge that,” Tonko said. “The status quo was draining American business.”
Runaway health insurance costs have hurt American business competing with companies in other countries where health care is generally government-subsidized, he contended.
Tonko voted in favor of the bill in 2009; so did Owens, in one of his first acts as a new congressman, after winning a special election to fill John McHugh’s seat.
Stephen Williams is a Gazette reporter. The opinions expressed in his column are him own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. He can be reached at 885-6705 or [email protected]