Grassley: Scrap current health-care bills


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Lawmakers need to scrap progress made so far on health-care reform and start anew, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told those gathered on the UI medical campus on Tuesday.

“There’s widespread agreement that our health-care system has serious problems,” he said before the crowd of roughly 200. “Unfortunately, Congress has spent a year creating bills that wouldn’t work.”

Grassley’s position as the ranking Republican of the Senate Finance Committee has made him a poster child for opposition to the Democrats’ health-care agenda. Locally, Democrats say the Republicans’ position is indicative of a disconnect between politicians and their constituents.

Iowa’s senior U.S. senator touched on the usual conservative talking points: Bills already drafted would increase government bureaucracy, infringe on patient-doctor relations, and lead to rationing of medical benefits.

Instead of the complete health-care overhaul many have called for, Grassley said incremental changes would suffice.

But Dane Hudson, the president of the University Democrats, said that would be detrimental to the process.

“To take all the work we’ve done over the past year — all those months and all the headway we’ve made — just to scrap everything and start over again is a complete waste of time,” Hudson said.

Tom Fiegen, a Democrat hoping to compete with Grassley in November, said he’s observed varying degrees of support for health-care reform among Iowans. However, the people most reluctant to support reform, he said, have largely been misinformed by the Republicans.

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“We’ve got to talk to people who are in the middle and tell them, ‘If these price increases continue, pretty soon you are not going to be able to afford it,’ ” Fiegen said.

Ideally, Grassley said, a fresh push for health-care reform would focus on providing incentives for young doctors to practice in underserved areas of the country, including parts of rural Iowa.

Recent years have seen a decline in the number of medical-school graduates choosing to pursue careers in primary care — family medicine, general pediatrics, and general internal medicine.

In fact, by 2025, the U.S. is expected to see a shortage of as many as 159,000 physicians, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. And an increase in access to health-care could exacerbate that shortage.

The shortage could be particularly problematic for Iowans, because many rural communities already demand more primary-care doctors.

The issue is complex, said Roger Tracy, the director of the UI’s Office of Statewide Clinical Education Programs, noting that in the last five years, only around 45 percent of UI Carver College of Medicine graduates chose to train in primary care; during the mid-90s, that number was as high as 60 percent.

And even of those who do pursue primary care, only around half of UI medical graduates who train in Iowa end up practicing in Iowa.

“One of the most important issues to me relates to how health-care reform will affect the long-term ability to recruit health-care professionals to rural states such as Iowa,” said Lyndsay Harshman, a third-year medical student.

DI reporter Kelli Petersen contributed to this report.

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