Murray unwavering in health care support

Democrats running for election to Congress this year are going to have to defend their party's passage of national health care reform. Republicans are going to hang that issue around the neck of every Democrat, whether an incumbent or a first-time candidate.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa., is up for re-election and can expect to be hit with critical questions at every venue on the campaign trail. FBI agents arrested a Washington state man Tuesday for threatening her life over her support of the bill.

In her recent appearance before The Olympian’s editorial board, Murray offered a spirited defense of the legislation she helped write and said, in fact, that if she was told her vote in support of the bill would cost her the November election, she would not have wavered and would have cast her “yes” vote despite the political consequences. We admire her courage and her leadership on this pivotal issue.

Murray said as she was standing near President Barack Obama as he signed the health care bill into law, she flashed back to a community forum in Olympia almost a decade ago. She and her fellow United States senator, Maria Cantwell, were absolutely blown away that night when more than 600 South Sound residents packed the community center and pleaded for changes to the nation’s health care delivery system.

Murray said the changes residents asked for that evening — universal access, cost restraint and a ban on denial of coverage based on a preexisting health condition — are central to the health reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law last month by Obama.

As for Republicans who are expected to run on a health care platform of “repeal and replace” — repeal the new law and replace it with a different fix — Murray asks whether GOP candidates really want to return to today’s health care system with rapidly escalating health insurance costs, 40 million people without health insurance and Medicaid reimbursement formulas that seriously punish the state of Washington.

She notes that doctors and other health care providers in Washington state receive a lower Medicare reimbursement rate than their counterparts across the country, partly because this state makes more efficient use of medical dollars. Many health care providers have stopped accepting Medicare patients because the reimbursement rates don’t even cover the physician’s cost to see and treat the patient. As a result, many Medicare recipients have been unable to find a physician. And that’s the area where Murray focused her efforts in the health care legislation — the shrinking number of nurses and family practice physicians.

Murray said the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., asked her to write the work force portion of the bill. Her efforts were reflected in both the House and Senate versions of the bill and in the final legislation signed into law by the president.

According to Murray, the new law:

 • Offers federally supported student loans to train students in health care fields with the highest need.

 • Awards grants for training in high-need fields such as family practice, internal medicine, general pediatrics, general dentistry, community health and advance nursing.

 • Provides training for direct care workers.

 • Creates nurse education, training and retention programs.

 • Offers new health care work force loan repayment programs to recruit providers in those same high-demand fields.

 • Creates a recruitment and retention program to encourage people to serve in the public health arena.

 • Creates a midcareer professional program.

 • Establishes a National Health Care Workforce Commission to provide comprehensive and unbiased information to Congress about the resources needed to better meet national health care needs and how to provide the resources to meet those needs.

 • Creates national and regional centers to collect and analyze information on health care needs.

Murray’s work is a pivotal part of health care reform because it provides concrete solutions to a significant health care challenge facing the nation today.

The senator is realistic in acknowledging that the health care legislation is not perfect and it does not solve all problems. One of the things we liked best in her analysis was her commitment and the commitment of Democrats in Congress to monitor the outcomes of health care reform and make legislative adjustments when and where necessary.

This is very much a work in progress — but a vast improvement from the broken national health care system we are stuck with today.

The question is whether voters will agree with the changes put in place by Democrats or will side with the “repeal and replace” strategy of Republicans. Stay tuned.