N.C. senators divided on health care proposals

Staff writerAugust 25, 2009 

— North Carolina's two U.S. senators sharply disagreed Monday night on the health-care proposals before Congress, reflecting the deep divisions in the country.

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan said families and businesses were being overwhelmed by rising health-care costs that were outstripping people's ability to pay for it.

"I don't think we can afford inaction," Hagan told several hundred people at a dinner of the N.C. Agribusiness Council at the North Raleigh Hilton.

But minutes later, Republican Sen. Richard Burr told the same audience that the proposals before Congress were too far-reaching, too expensive, and that Congress needed to slow down.

"This is way too important to jam through before the American people fully understand it," Burr said.

The two senators didn't debate or even directly address one other. But it was rare that the state's two senators would address such a hot topic back to back at the same event.

Hagan noted that health insurance premiums rose 98 percent during the past decade, while wages increased only 18 percent. Many small businesses, she said, are seeing their insurance premiums rise 20 percent per year.

She said the legislation in Congress would both allow people to keep their health insurance policies, and would provide tax credits to make sure small businesses are not penalized by requirements to offer insurance to employees.

Hagan also argued that the health-care plan could be financed without adding to the national deficit.

"These reforms must not add to our nation's deficit," Hagan said.

Burr, clearly skeptical, warned of higher deficits, more taxes, greater regulation, fewer doctors in rural areas.

"We've seen the response in the town hall meetings," Burr said. "I don't think this is anything other than once the national debate started, the American people saying: How does this affect me and my family?"

Burr argued that 16 million people could lose the health-care policy they now purchase and be forced to buy their policies through state exchanges. He said those Medicare recipients who purchase Medicare Advantage could lose their supplemental coverage.

"Kay and I agree on one thing -- it is not sustainable in its current fashion," Burr said. "We have to do health-care reform. But I want to warn you tonight: Do the wrong thing and our children and our grandchildren will spend a generation trying to figure out how to reverse what we've done."

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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