Herald & News: Health care reform top of Walden's agenda

January 17, 2017
In The News

Retooling the Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare — will be a high priority for Oregon Congressman Greg Walden as he enters his 10th term for the 2nd Congressional District.

Speaking on a round robin of topics Saturday in Klamath Falls, Walden, a Republican, will chair the major Energy and Commerce committee that will oversee the rewriting portions of Obamacare.

He’s the first congressman from the Northwest to chair this group which includes 31 Republicans and 24 Democrats. It is one of a handful of major House committees that covers a wide ranging amount of interests: Health care, energy, telecommunications, Environment Protection Agency, food safety, transportation, infrastructure, Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.

“We will rewrite the items that will fix the mess that is Obamacare,” Walden said. However, he backed away from the common description of “repeal and replace” the act that many Republicans have promoted.

“What you’ll see us work on will be initiatives that fix the problems with the bill. It’s a 2,000-page bill — which was part of the problem.” But he noted that one won’t see a completely new bill to replace the current one.

“The big issue is the individual insurance market. What has happened is a basic collapse of the market (as insurance companies bail on providing coverage due to rising costs).

“In 2016 you had 223 counties that had just one insurance provider. This year, there are 1,025 counties that have just one provider. All indications are that in 2018 premiums will continue to go up and plans will continue to leave the market. There are five or six states that have just one plan,” he said.

Getting insurance companies back in the markets is a key part of the reform effort, he said.

“I’m talking with the CEOs of those insurance companies to ask what’s broken, and how do we fix it.”

“Nobody is talking about getting rid of the pre-existing conditions rule,” Walden said. “Young people will continue to stay on their parents’ plans. One way or another they will have coverage.”

He also said that the incoming Trump administration can do some things in fairly quick order that will drop costs and fix some of the issues, so Congress won’t have to legislate all the fixes.

“It won’t be another 2,000-page bill,” he said. “I liken it to a car wreck. We’re the ambulance that has shown up at the scene of a wreck and we’re trying to do the triage, what do we need to fix first.”

On other topics:

Walden pushed forward a separate bill regarding the Klamath Basin water agreements back in 2015. The bill excluded dam removal since that would be dealt with separately through re-licensing regulations. The bill has pretty much stalled, but Walden said that he hopes to revisit with the Klamath Tribes — which holds the primary right to the water — now that the Tribes has a newly elected council.

President Obama used his executive powers to expand the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by some 47,000 acres. It includes so-called Oregon and California Act lands, which may be exempt from such an order. Walden plans to see if the order can be rolled back.

The Jordan Cove Pipeline permits have been denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC ruled that the company did not present a convincing argument that it was beneficial to the region and did not have the commitments for the demand for natural gas.

However, the company is now under new management, Walden said. It appears that it may take another run at the FERC permits again.