Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., says she never dreamed of running for Congress until her frustration with the Democratic health overhaul pushed her into politics almost two years ago. She knows the health care system well, having worked as a nurse for nearly 20 years and serving as clinical director of the Trinity Wound Care Center in Dunn, N.C. Her husband, a surgeon, also works there.
As a Tea Party candidate, Ellmers called for a smaller role for the federal government and grabbed national attention with a controversial ad criticizing the proposed construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero. Still, health care remains the issue that most fires her up. She sat down recently with KHN reporter Jessica Marcy to talk about her views of the health law and efforts to curb health costs.
Watch video of the interview
Q. What specific elements of the law do you oppose? And what do you propose as an alternative?
A. The ObamaCare plan, with the individual mandate, is overstepping, unconstitutional and extremely costly. It will ultimately be very harmful to health care and our economy. I am actually very much in favor of health reform, but in the private sector. It has to be patient-centered, private sector solutions. Being in health care, we have been aware for years that there are many needed reforms.
There are some issues that the government needs to take care of, like tort reform. Physicians practice defensive medicine every day and many actually stop portions of their practice, for instance, many ob/gyns have dropped the obstetrics and have gone to gynecology because the malpractice insurance is so expensive. We have also got to make health care insurance more affordable. I do believe that we can bring down the costs if we open up the market so that you can buy insurance across state lines. Right now in North Carolina, you can only buy from a certain number of insurance companies, which thereby increases the cost.
Q. You mentioned the individual mandate, what do you see as a viable alternative? How would you encourage people to get insurance coverage?
A. Well, the thing is if there is an individual mandate, you are forcing people to buy something. But [instead they need to be convinced for themselves], especially people who are young and healthy, to get insurance. If the cost is minimal because they are young and healthy, then it's just another cost that they incur and it's a more reasonable approach because they will say, "Hey, yeah, I do understand that I need to cover myself so that I don't end up in a situation where I have a pre-existing condition down the road." It is through education that we need to do this. We need people to understand that a lot of these issues that we are facing today can really be avoided. If an individual had started paying for insurance when they were younger, healthier, today's pre-existing condition would be covered.
If the government comes and dictates what is to be done, that is where the costs start to increase. Anytime the government has taken over anything, it has gotten astronomically expensive and a huge bureaucratic system.
Q. Bringing down costs is very difficult. How would you lower costs?
A. No, actually it's not, and again, with the free market and with tort reform. And we estimate there is millions of dollars of worth of fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid. We see it every day, those of us in health care, claims that are being filed that are fraudulent, and these are the things that we need to address.
Q. You voted to repeal the health care law in the House, but that effort has stalled in the Senate. Do you think the American people are going to get tired of continuing to debate health care, especially if they want to see more movement on jobs and the economy?
A. I am sure it will be going to the Supreme Court and will be shot down as unconstitutional. I don't think the American people are going to get tired of it because they see that this is a massive takeover of government in health care and every other aspect of their lives.
Q. If the health care law is repealed, do you think that people might get frustrated with not having some of the consumer protections such as children covered up until the age of 26 or help for seniors in the doughnut hole?
A. There again, we need to put in place patient-centered reforms. I don't know that children need to be covered all the way up until age 26. But it has to be in the free market. The problem is we are losing the ability to make choices. That is your choice and this is the problem. We are losing the ability to make choices.
Q. There has been some criticism that Republicans don't have a unified alternative. What is your strategy moving forward?
A. No. See, that is completely untrue. That is the rhetoric. We have plenty of solutions.
Q. Like what, specifically?
A. We have got to get the Obama plan out of the way. Again, we have already voted to repeal. We are working on the provision to get rid of the 1099 (reporting requirement for business purchases). There are plenty of other aspects of the health care bill that fall apart when one piece of the puzzle is taken out, so this is what we are doing. We are moving forward on this whether or not the Democrats and the Senate or the president are coming along.
I think we have made our message very clear. I think the American people hear that message. Overwhelmingly, the American people want this health care situation addressed. They want it addressed in the free market. The want it addressed where they can make their decisions for their own families and not have the president and the government make it for them.