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Blunt hears mixed reviews on federal health care changes from medical firm

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 7, 2010 - U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri's best-known Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, discovered Tuesday that even some medical professionals who are ambivalent about the nation's new health care law aren't ready to embrace the Republican quest to repeal the whole package.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 8, 2010 - /p>

Blunt, R-Springfield, met Tuesday with medical personnel and executives with the St. Louis County-based Signature Medical Group. The firm has 80 physicians, about half of them in orthopedic medicine, and another 30 who are obstetrician-gynecologists.

The 75-minute session was part of Blunt's "13-city tour to announce a new coalition of supporters who want real health-care solutions, not government takeovers paid for with job-killing taxes and cuts to Medicare."

His new group is called "Real Health Care Solutions Coalition."

Blunt said he is "holding roundtables with patients, nurses, doctors and health-care professionals who support his plan to repeal the government takeover and replace it with real solutions like those he's offered to lower costs and increase access."

But in the case of his St. Louis County audience, not all plan to be part of his coalition and not all agreed with his stance in favor of repealing the federal health-care changes.

Blunt emphasized to the group that his purpose was to listen, not preach. But he did reaffirm his belief that the health-care changes approved by Democrats in Congress, and signed into law by President Barack Obama, will lead to higher costs and insurance premiums. He also predicted that many Americans will refuse to buy health insurance and will pay the cheaper federal fines instead.

Blunt also disagreed with some of his audience's observations, during a lively question-answer session, that the health-care debate had been improperly politically polarized by both sides.

Although only Democrats had voted for the health-care bills that finally passed, Blunt noted that some Democrats joined the solid bloc of Republicans who voted against the package. Blunt asserted that bipartisanship had, therefore, been displayed by the opponents, not the supporters.

Blunt also said he objected to Democratic assertions that the GOP had no alternative proposals. He emphasized that he and other Republicans had introduced a number of bills aimed at introducing competition and nationalizing the medical-lawsuit restrictions now in place in Missouri and some other states. Blunt also pointed out that some of his proposals, such as allowing young adults to remain on their parents' health insurance until they are 26, are in the final version that became law.

But overall, he told his audience, "the more you know (about the package's provisions), the less you're going to like it."

Signature chief executive Jan Vest, who had peppered the congressman with questions, said afterward that he is indeed concerned about some of the health-care provisions. But Vest said he'd prefer to see Congress make the necessary changes, as opposed to outright repeal.

Vest said he believes the package could have been improved if officials in Washington had talked to more physicians in private practice. "I'm not happy with the final form of the bill," Vest said.

Among other things, he's concerned about possible Medicare cuts and believes that the new package fails to inject enough free-market provisions into the medical system so that best practices are rewarded and that the public can get a better sense of their medical costs.

But Vest also is leery about politicians on both sides of the health-care debate. "Politicians are playing to certain elements who provide (their) financing," he said, referring to campaign donors.

Andrew Schwartzkopf, Signature's corporate counsel, made similar observations directly to Blunt. "Both sides use this issue as a source of fundraising and influencing their elections, as opposed to problem solving," the lawyer said.

Schwartzkopf said in an interview afterwards that he does have concerns about the new law. But he added that in his opinion, the upshot of whether the package helps or hurts his employer, or other private-practice physicians, will depend on how the federal government implements the new laws.

Referring to Blunt, Schwartzkopf said he was glad that the congressman showed up, but he thought he'd heard from him during the meeting "more political than practical rhetoric."

(Blunt's campaign replied by emailing Wednesday a list of Schwartzkopf's donations to Democrats, including Obama.)

Chief executive Vest emphasized afterward that the session should not be interpreted as any sort of endorsement of Blunt or any other politician who meets with Signature's personnel. Signature's employees span the political spectrum, Vest said, adding that in his case, "I don't lean one way or the other."

Meanwhile, Blunt said he planned to continue traveling the state discussing the health care package. He predicted it will be a major issue in this fall's congressional elections in Missouri and around the country, and in the 2012 presidential contest.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.