by KYLE BUTTS
The southernmost 9th Congressional District of Indiana, with its tobacco and corn fields covering the hills along the north side of the Ohio River, traditionally sends its representative to Washington to address issues of agriculture and trade. But Congressman Baron Hill, D-Ind., also sees in his district what he calls a “problem reaching crisis proportions”: the rising cost and restricted availability of health care.
“When I first was elected to Congress in 1998, people would talk about health care, but not like they do today,” the 53-year-old Democrat said in an interview. “Every time I hold a town hall meeting, health care comes up and a lot of people have stories about rising costs. The public is demanding that we do something.”
Hill says he met one such person during his 2006 campaign.
“A story I tell is of a jewelry store owner in Salem, Ind., who pays $1,000 a month in health care, and his costs have gone up 21 percent in the past year,” Hill said. “He tells me, and I think a lot of people are in this situation, ‘Baron, if my costs go up again, I’m in real trouble. I just can’t afford it.’ So, we have just got to find a way to help control these costs.”
But Hill, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of Democrats that argue for restraint in spending and low taxes, says he thinks a completely government-based health care program may not necessarily be the right solution.
“I don’t think the solution should necessarily be completely government-based,” he said. “Take Medicare, that’s a government program with private features. Something like that could work to get more people healthcare while keeping costs down.”
But the Seymour, Ind., native is not completely satisfied with that answer, either. That’s why his Right to Care Act is aiming higher: the Constitution.
“I want to build healthcare into the Constitution as a basic right,” said Hill. “Insurance companies and the health care industry know how to defeat bills and work for legislation that benefits them. They have done that for years. But if we build access to healthcare into the Constitution as a right for all U.S. citizens, they won’t be able to do that.”
The Right to Care Act has been drafted and Hill is currently seeking co-sponsors.
Hill says he also wants to put special emphasis on making sure children have health insurance.
“There is a program in Indiana in existence now, Hoosier Healthwise â€¦ that insures most kids, but not all kids. I would definitely be in favor of expanding that,” he said. Hill also noted that Michigan Democrat John Dingell’s bill aiming to provide health insurance coverage for all children has gotten his attention, he has pledged his support.
On the hot-button topic of embryonic stem cell research, Hill voted in favor of the Stem Cell Enhancement Act of 2007.
“Voting yes and expanding the scope of the research was the moral thing to do,” he said. “These embryos are going to be thrown away anyway, and it is simply not moral and does not make sense to not use them for research purposes.”
Hill’s other health care bill yet to be introduced this session is the Affordable Health Care Commission Act, a bill that would create a commission that would aim to develop ways to provide affordable health care. Under the bill, doctors, insurance company representatives and patient advocacy groups, among others, would come together under both chairs of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.
The 110th Congress is not the first for Hill, who was first elected to the House in 1998. After a two year hiatus due to a defeat to Republican Mike Sodrel in 2004, Hill returned to Congress as part of the new Democratic majority in January 2007.
“It’s been nice to have a reunion with my friends and colleagues here in Washington,” he said. He added, joking, “Other than that, it was nice not having to re-learn where the bathrooms are and I don’t get lost as much.”
But he says one thing for certain is different in his second time around as a freshman: “The health care issue this time around is much more intense in its political pressure for action. The country is looking for us to do something and really, the country needs us to do something.”