Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., speaks with Silverton residents at the Brown Bear Cafe on Monday, Aug. 17.
By Mark Esper
Sen. Michael Bennet made his first visit to Silverton since being appointed earlier this year to the seat vacated by Ken Salazar, who is now secretary of the Interior.
The topic on Monday, Aug. 17, of course, was health care, as Congress hears from constituents on the issue during the August recess.
“The health-care issue has generated a bizarre political reaction,” Bennet told a group of Democrats gathered at the Brown Bear Café on Monday.
He said Colorado has seen health-insurance costs rise some 93 percent over the last 10 years while wages have remained flat.
“We need to fix that,” Sen. Bennet said. “Those who want to defend the status quo need to defend another decade of double-digit increases.”
Bennet said he favors the so-called public option to set up a government-run health insurance program to compete with the private sector and expand health-care coverage.
And he said health-care costs can be brought under control, “and by the way, we can do that without killing grandma,” he added, referring to some of the more inflammatory rhetoric in the health-care debate.
Bennet said the United States is spending 18 percent of its GDP on health care, with inconsistent results, while other industrialized countries spend about half that.
And Bennet said another reason health-care reform is vital is the long-term federal budget.
“We cannot begin to hope to solve our fiscal problems without dealing with health care,” Bennet said, noting the huge slice of the federal budget taken up by Medicare and Medicaid. “Whether you are insured or uninsured, you have an interest in reform.”
Bennet said those with health insurance are paying about $1,000 a year to pay for indigent care at emergency rooms. He suggested it would make more sense to bring those uninsured into the health-care system.
Bennet said he was “enormously optimistic we will pass a health care bill that will make a material difference.”
He said the legislation will present a “substantial departure from the status quo, but it won’t be all the way there” in terms of what he’d like to see.
And he noted any reforms will take years to phase in.
Bennet noted the nation is going through “a lot of anxiety” amid the worst recession since the Great Depression.
“There is an enormous burden on those standing for reform,” Bennet said. “If we fail, we’re going to have a lot of explaining to do — and we should have a lot of explaining to do.”