Rep. Mike says ‘no’ to Obama on health care

Democrats circle the wagons for freshman Rep. McMahon
The Brooklyn Paper / Ben Muessig

Freshman Rep. Mike McMahon (D–Bay Ridge) was one of only two Democrats in the state to vote against the House health care reform bill. In doing so, McMahon joined 22 Southern Dems and scores of Republicans. But McMahon says his “no” vote doesn’t mean he’s against health care reform — just this health care reform. Clearly, it was time for another installment of “McMahon on Line 1.”

Brooklyn Paper: So, it’s you, an upstate conservative, a bunch of Southern yahoos and most of the Republican Party on this. Is that really the company you want to be keeping on health care reform?

Mike McMahon: For me, this vote came down to what is best for the people who sent me to Washington. I promised to be independent, and, in my opinion, this bill would be detrimental to the hospitals in my district. Each one would lose $25 million in disproportionate share hospital funding.

BP: Come on. Now you’re just making things up. What’s that?

MM: It’s the rate at which they’re compensated for uninsured and undocumented patients. Hospitals in my district would really suffer because they have high numbers of such patients.

BP: But so would hospitals in the other congressional districts in Brooklyn — yet all those members of Congress voted for the bill.

MM: You’d have to ask them why.

BP: We have. They say they support reform.

MM: So do I. But this bill would also hurt seniors, who would lose critical Medicare benefits. And small businesses, which are the main economic engines in my district, would see tax increases. And this bill has no clamp on increasing premiums. Insurance companies would drive up premiums to cover the cost of covering more people.

BP: That’s not in the bill. That’s just your assumption.

MM: It is my expectation, yes. We’re still waiting for a report by the Congressional Budget Office, but most experts feel that because of the increase in coverage, the increase in mandates and the lack of any cost controls, the insurance companies would raise rates.

BP: You mentioned seniors. Why does this bill hurt them?

MM: Because they would lose their Medicare Advantage, which 35–40 percent of the seniors in my district use.

BP: But high numbers of seniors in other districts use that, too, yet their congressmen voted for the bill.

MM: Again, you’d have to ask those members.

BP: Where are you on the public option now? You’ve been iffy on it.

MM: I’m not opposed to the public option, but it’s not the way to cut costs. Remember: you can’t take the public option if your employer covers you currently. So how does an option offered to 10 million people cut down costs for everyone else? You could drive down costs with an independent board that could set rates. That’s in one of the Senate bills, but not the House bill.

BP: OK, so what does Mike McMahon want?

MM: We need to set the right inflection point for health care. The House bill would send it in the wrong direction. It would increase costs without controls over the health care system. And it would be a heavy pressure on the national debt. We need to expand coverage, but we need to control costs to the government. In the House bill, for example, there’s no bundling [a payment system that reimburses hospitals for the entire treatment, not one service at a time]. There’s no incentive to get off the fee-for-service system. What you want is performance-based payments, outcome-based payments.

BP: So Mike McMahon wants reform, even though he voted against the House bill.

MM: Yes, but the current bill would not do it.

BP: Man, you must have been under a lot of pressure to vote with the president?

MM: He called me. And the vice president called me.

BP: Biden, whatever. But what’s it like to get that call from the president? Is it really, “Congressman, hold on one second for the president” like in the movies?

MM: Yes, it is. And it’s a bit unnerving. But we had a very serious talk about the bill. I told him that my decision was easy because the bill is not good for the people who sent me to represent them. And at the end, he said, “Mike, I can see that you’ve really thought this through, and I respect that.”

BP: You said no to a Democratic president on the central pillar of his agenda.

MM: Well, you know the Chinese proverb: May we live in interesting times.

BP: Proverb? It’s a curse, congressman!

MM: Now you tell me.