Compromise has ‘no value’ to Oregonians, Merkley says

WASHINGTON — Details weren’t available Thursday on the latest Senate health care reform compromise, but that didn’t stop U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., from taking a pre-emptive shot at the deal.

Merkley said the proposal to replace a government-run “public option” with the option for people to buy into Medicare at age 55, rather than the current 65, would do little for Oregon residents. The problem, Merkley said, is that Oregon doctors are paid much less than physicians in most other parts of the nation for performing the same services, so few doctors are accepting new Medicare patients.

“What I know is unless the rates are adjusted, it will be of virtually no value to the citizens of Oregon,” Merkley said. “If Medicare is a significant part of this package, you have to address the long-standing injustice of low compensation to states like Oregon.”

The Senate is in the midst of debating a sprawling health care reform bill, which would expand Medicaid, provide subsidies for some low-income families to buy health insurance and create new regulations on insurance companies to prevent discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. It would also require nearly everyone to buy health insurance, create new taxes on high-cost insurance plans and take funding from Medicare.

Merkley has been a strong backer of a public insurance option as part of the reform bill. He said he’s disappointed that Senate leaders appear to have bargained away that provision to win the votes of moderate Democrats.

“I appreciate the challenge, but I’m very frustrated on the public option,” Merkley said.

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