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Idaho congressman Simpson says a single-payer system could replace Obamacare

Rep. Mike Simpson on health politics: 'We just have differences of opinion'

Speaking in May 2017 at the Idaho Healthcare Summit, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson said health care reform is at a turning point: either moving to far less federal control, or a single-payer system.
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Speaking in May 2017 at the Idaho Healthcare Summit, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson said health care reform is at a turning point: either moving to far less federal control, or a single-payer system.

If he knew the American Health Care Act passed by the House of Representatives would become law, he would have voted against it, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson said Monday at a health care conference in Boise.

“There are some problems with it,” the Idaho Republican told the Idaho Healthcare Summit, organized by the Post Register newspaper in Idaho Falls.

The House voted 217-213 on May 4 to pass the GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Simpson said he voted for it knowing the bill would not become law without significant changes.

While Simpson spoke, a small crowd gathered outside the Boise Centre to protest the Republican effort to repeal or change the Affordable Care Act. Protesters, including a health care provider and an organ donor, said Idahoans would lose coverage without the ACA.

Simpson’s remarks came about a week after Rep. Raul Labrador, Idaho’s other House member, caused a national uproar by saying, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

Labrador later said his comment referred to a law that requires hospital emergency rooms to take all patients in medical emergencies. That law does not require hospitals to offer early interventions that prevent death, such as cancer treatment, or to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes that can quickly become life-threatening.

Simpson, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, including most of Boise and everything in Idaho to the east, said “there are no tweaks out there” to make the Affordable Care Act work. He predicted the law will be replaced either by a system that relies less on the federal government or by a single-payer system like Medicare.

“It’s been surprising to me how many people I’ve heard who, five years ago, wouldn’t have said something like that,” he said. “Business people. Who said, ‘Just go to a one-payer system. It’s the simplest thing to do.’ But is it the best thing to do?”

Some Democrats, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2016 presidential candidate, have long favored a single-payer system like Medicare for all to replace private health insurance.

Simpson said he wants to see reforms, such as making health-insurance premiums tax-deductible for individuals.

He also said Americans should be direct consumers of health care by increasing the use of health savings accounts, or HSAs. HSAs currently are an option for people whose health insurance has a very high deductible. The law allows them to set aside pre-tax cash to spend on medical care such as copays or prescription drugs.

“I’ve said for a long time, you know, you’re never going to control the cost of health care to a large degree until you get people to be consumers of health care again,” said Simpson, who worked as a dentist and remembers patients calling around for price quotes before choosing a dentist.

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @audreydutton

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