Government Should Help, But Not Run, Health Care, Lincoln Tells State Chamber

Blanche Lincoln told a ballroom full of Arkansas business leaders Monday morning that government's role in health care reform should not be to run it, but to create an environment for private business to succeed.

Lincoln, Arkansas' senior senator and one of the Senate's most prominent moderate Democrats, provided the keynote address to the 81st annual meeting of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Little Rock. Scheduled to speak later in the day are Gov. Mike Beebe, Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., and Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark.

Lincoln broke no new ground Monday, reiterating her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, otherwise known as card check and which would change the way unions are organized, and for which she received a round of applause. Calling EFCA divisive, Lincoln said a compromise needs to be worked out between business leaders and workers, not Senators.

But her focus for state chamber members was on health care reform. Lincoln noted her support of a Senate Finance Committee measure passed in September that includes no public option but creates a purchasing exchange for the uninsured that would operate like a co-op.

"I wanted to make sure what we did was deficit-neutral," she told her audience, many of whom are small-business owners with a vested interest in health care reform. "We've got to get more efficient. We have the best doctors and hospitals in the world, but the delivery system is broken. Right now, we reimburse for volume as opposed to value. If y'all did that in the business community, you'd be out of business pretty quick."

The finance-committee bill that Lincoln supported would not include coverage for illegal immigrants and would impose fines on insurance companies for practices such as charging people with serious health conditions more for coverage.

"Government needs to create an environment for private business to succeed," she said. "This is not a perfect bill, but in Washington, there never really is a perfect bill. Doing nothing is not an option."

Lincoln said the bill provides incentives for wellness and prevention measures such as smoking-cessation and weight-management programs, and stressed that it would not represent the final product.

"Hopefully, we can apply some downward pressure on the cost of health care for years to come," she said, "so businesses can be competitive now and 10 years from now."

Lincoln is up for re-election in 2010, and her stances on health care reform and card check have made her unpopular with many in her own party. In addition, eight candidates, seven Republican and one Green party, have declared for her seat. But she will run for re-election from a position of power, having recently ascended to the chairmanship of the prestigious Senate Agriculture Committee.

Lincoln's committee will conduct upcoming hearings on climate change, an issue that could have major repercussions on business. Lincoln noted her opposition to the House cap-and-trade bill, and said her committee's role in the Senate debate will be to make sure farmers and small business have a say in the process and don't end up shouldering most of the costs associated with whatever measure is passed.