U.S. Rep. Steve King considers himself a leading opponent of the health care law commonly called Obamacare, but there is a federal medical program he supports.
Called Medicare Part D, that program helps senior citizens pay for prescription drugs. The Republican from Kiron said Thursday that he wants to keep and improve that system.
"I'm a renowned conservative who supported Part D," King said during a visit to Fort Dodge.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, speaks with members of The Messenger editorial board Thursday afternoon during a brief visit to Fort Dodge.
He spoke to The Messenger as his campaign to represent the new 4th Congressional District enters its final month. He faces Democrat Christie Vilsack, of Ames, in the race to represent the district that includes Webster County and all of its surrounding counties.
King said he believes Medicare Part D has preserved the quality of life for millions of senior citizens and has saved "hundreds of billions of dollars" for Medicare by helping recipients avoid more costly treatments.
Medicare Part D, however, contains a coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole." Medicare recipients enter the doughnut hole after they and their prescription plan have paid $2,930 for drugs. After entering the doughnut hole, those people must pay 50 percent of their drug costs until those costs exceed $4,700. At that point, they are then covered by Medicare Part D again.
"It will haunt us until it's filled," King said of the doughnut hole.
He added that he wants to fill it, but doesn't know where the needed money will come from.
Other members of Congress aren't talking much about the doughnut hole, he said.
He said fixing the Medicare Part D coverage gap is not a reason to keep Obamacare in place. He said he believes that law is too expensive and takes away the individual's freedom to make decisions about their health care.
King said Obamacare should be replaced with a series of new laws, each of which would be individually debated and voted upon by Congress.
He said his "dream piece of legislation" would allow people who have health savings accounts to use that money to buy their own private health insurance when they become eligible for Medicare. He said under this proposal, any money from those accounts that isn't used to pay for the private insurance would be tax-exempt.
"It would take millions of people off of the entitlement rolls and provide an incentive for them to get their regular medical checkups, get their exercise, watch their diet and plan their health savings account as a life management account," he said.
"That's the best thing that I think we can do to help health care in this country and keep individual freedom and responsibility in place," he added.
King acknowledged that the nation faces tax increases and deep federal spending cuts on Jan. 1 if no action is taken. He said the solution to those challenges will be determined by the November general election. He said if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins the White House and Republicans take control of Congress all of the tax cuts signed by former President George W. Bush will be made permanent in January. He added that Republicans will stop any major defense budget cuts.
He declined to talk about what would happen if President Barack Obama is re-elected and Democrats retain control of the Senate.
"I'm not making provisions for failure today," he said.
King said Congress is now polarized between Democrats and Republicans. He blamed the situation on the defeat of a large number of conservative Democrats in 2010.
"People say, well, compromise," King said. "Well, where do you compromise at? Somebody says they're going to jump out of the 40th floor of a building and somebody else says it's a bad idea, do you jump out of the 20th floor? Compromise can be fatal is my point. And yet we do a lot of business with the other side."
King and Vilsack may debate in Fort Dodge on Oct. 23, but the congressman said Thursday he didn't know if that will happen.
"I know we have that dialogue out there and we're trying to get to that," he said. "What I've said is, let's have a Lincoln-Douglas style debate where there's open dialogue."