The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Delta Caucus Supports Health Care Legislation

Posted on December 22, 2009 at 01:21 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus commended the Arkansas Congressional delegation and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana for their key role in supporting progress toward passage of health care legislation, and urged the entire Congress to pass a final version of the bill. “We have terrible health care problems in the Delta region, and we commend the nationally prominent work of Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor (AR), Sen. Landrieu of Louisiana, and Representatives Marion Berry, Vic Snyder and Mike Ross. We urge them to continue their pivotal national role in working together to pass the health care reform bill,” said Caucus director Lee Powell.

Desha County Judge Mark McElroy said “We all know what a terribly difficult time Senator Lincoln and all our Members of Congress have had over this controversial issue, but everybody knew if were going to have a bill at all, it would have to be a compromise. I would have preferred a public option with a choice for states to opt out, but Sen. Lincoln cast several key votes in favor of blocking a filibuster and moving forward, and her support for setting up insurance exchanges is a reasonable alternative, and we’ve got to have some help with our woefully inadequate health care system in the Delta.”

The Delta Caucus respects the good faith and hard work of Members of Congress throughout the Delta region, including Reps. Bennie Thompson, Travis Childers and Sen. Thad Cochran (MS), the Arkansas and Louisiana delegations, Rep. John Tanner and Steve Cohen (TN), Rep. Jo Ann Emerson and Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO), Sen. Richard Durbin and Rep. Jerry Costello (IL), Rep. Artur Davis (AL), Rep. Ed Whitfield (KY).

Powell said “We have followed Sen. Lincoln’s efforts to deal with this controversial issue all year, including her thoughtful presentation on health care at our conference in Washington, DC this fall, and we believe she is doing a fine job of working for a reasonable compromise. We don’t agree with all her positions, but she is catching flak from hard-liners on both sides and people ought to lighten up and give her credit for all the hard work she has done on such a traumatic issue.”

Rev. Dwight Webster, pastor of Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans, said “The progress in the Senate is a step forward, because never again will folks like those who suffered from a disaster like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans be without assistance. This plugs gaping holes in the pre-Katrina system and we welcome the efforts of Sen. Landrieu and all those who are working in good faith for the health care bill.”

Kevin Smith, long-time Delta regional leader and a health insurance professional from Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, said “We applaud Reps. Berry and Ross and Senators Lincoln and Pryor for their hard work on such a difficult issue. This bill isn’t perfect, but it is progress toward better health care for the Delta, and we desperately need progress.”

“The Delta Caucus is a regional grassroots coalition with many shades of opinion: Many of our partners would favor a public option with a clause for states to opt out if they oppose the public option, but we also have some who would favor the insurance exchange plan as advocated by Sen. Lincoln and others. We have a small minority who are against health care legislation at this time and we respect their opinion, but the great majority of our partners support some version of health care,” Powell said. “The Delta has soaring levels of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and many other maladies, and our health care coverage is totally inadequate–it may be the biggest obstacle the Delta has to a brighter economic future,” Powell said.

Robert Cole, senior consultant to the East Arkansas Enterprise Community and a long-time Delta regional advocate based in Forrest City, Arkansas, said “The East Arkansas Enterprise Community has been involved in health care outreach and health care services for the past 12 years, and this health care bill isn’t perfect but it is far better than no bill–let’s not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”

McElroy said “The Delta Caucus was pleased that the Senate bill will increase payments to primary care physicians and general surgeons in rural and underserved areas like the Delta without cutting payments to other doctors. The legislation also takes the positive step of banning the insurance practice of denying people coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions.”

Sen. Lincoln and Sen. Landrieu cast the pivotal votes in blocking a filibuster and assuring that the debate on health care reform would move forward. Lincoln and Landrieu joined with Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and two Independents to continue moving the compromise version of the legislation forward. The American Medical Association has endorsed the bill.

“We could be like Dr. Howard Dean and carp about not getting everything we wanted and disagreeing with parts of the bill and throw the baby out with the bath water, but the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the compromise Senate plan would cover 94% of eligible Americans younger than age 65, reduce the deficit by $132 billion over its first decade, and that is good news for impoverished regions like the Delta,” Powell said.

The $871 bilion, 10-year bill is designed to cover 31 million uninsured people, cut costs, and put new restrictions on insurers. It will expand the Medicaid health program for the poor, set up on-line insurance purchasing excahgnes and provide subsidies for people who need help buying policies.

“Rather than criticize leaders like Sen. Lincoln over the lack of a public option that many of our partners would have prefered, the Delta Caucus believes the wiser choice is to recognize the merits of the alternative in the Senate plan, in which the US Office of Personnel Management that oversees benefits for all civilian federal employees and Members of Congress would be allowed to contract with private insurers to offer multistate plans on the insurance exchange,” Powell said.

The Delta Caucus greatly appreciates the roles played by Reps. Marion Berry, Mike Ross and Vic Snyder in the health care debate. “We were pleased that Reps. Berry and Snyder voted for the House version of the health care bill, which does contain a public option. Rep. Berry is a pharmacist and Rep. Snyder is a physician, so they both bring professional expertise to this debate.

“Rep. Mike Ross said in his presentation at our fall conference that he supported a health care bill, although he is not in favor of a public option. Now that the public option has been taken out of the bill, we would encourage Rep. Ross to support the legislation. We recall that when he spoke at our conference along with President Obama’s Director of Outreach for Health Care Reform, Caya Lewis this fall, they agreed on most issues,” Powell said.

Rep. Joseph Cao, Republican of Louisiana, has also emerged as a thoughtful, moderate voice and we urge him to support passage of health care legislation in the final reconciliation between the Senate and House versions.

At the request of Senators Lincoln and Landrieu, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made changes to offer additional assistance to small businesses.

The package includes $400 billion in new taxes, including a 10% tax on in-door tanning salons to be paid by the customer, and an increase in the Medicare payroll tax for people earning more than $200,000 a year and families earning more than $250,000.

Rep. John Boozman, who represents northwest Arkansas, opposes the health care legislation. We respectfully disagree with that point of view.