Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Senator Kristen Gillibrand

ANGELICA: Two cars rolled up to the Angelica Sweet Shop just after 1 on Monday afternoon for one of Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s many stops across 10 of New York’s southern counties. With Gillibrand were her two small sons. Five year old Theo headed for the candy counter at the Sweet Shop while little Henry was content to peek around his grandmother’s neck. Gillibrand put her Senate office on wheels to move it from Chautauqua County eastward to her home in Columbia for what she calls “The Senate at your Super market” tour.
Several county dignitaries and an array of citizens from Wellsville, Andover, Alfred and certainly Angelica were on hand to greet the Senator offering her pamphlets and books to thumb through later hoping to build a concept of what Allegany County offers.
The visit started with Theo’s tour of the Sweet Shop candy wall where Gillibrand nabbed a quick Twizzler and then moved outside to take questions and define her position on a variety of topics. She is not holding town hall meetings but rather talking in small groups with constituents.
Health care is a huge concern. She’d like reforms to the health insurance industry that would end the practice of excluding people for pre-existing conditions. She supports preventive care and proposes that there be no co-pay for cancer screening tests. She also supports that there be a universal form to simplify office work and increase efficency.
Gillibrand supports a public option for which people would pay premiums of no more than 5% of their income. Along with that she would require a better reimbursement rate to the medical providers. In cities, the volume of patients helps the money flow into a service provider but in rural areas, the fee for service has to cover the cost of operating. There just aren’t enough people using the service to make up for low rates in rural areas.
Having said all that, she was doubtful that the legislative chambers would pass such an inclusive bill even though the end result would be lower costs for everyone. Right now insurance costs are increasing at four times the rate that salaries increase and it’s just not sustainable.
The average family income in Allegany County is $40,000 while basic insurance plans are $10,000. People can’t pay that. That makes people depend on the Emergency Room - the least efficient/ most expensive way to go.
Gillibrand is also looking at bringing alternative energy projects to the Southern Tier. She said we have the workforce, the education and the resources to get into cellulose ethanol, wind and solar power. There’s a history of manufacturing in this area and the country needs to make use of remaining expertise.
Gillibrand said that the anger over the cap and trade bill is really anger about the economy. In rural areas of New York the unemployment rate is 15%. She said that cap and trade allows clean industries to sell their carbon savings to dirtier industries that produce more carbon but said that what we really need is to clean up our air. In the Bronx, 25% of all children have asthma. The federal government might make money available to entrepreneurs to develop clean energy sources or to reduce air pollution and such small businesses could drive the economic engine.
“Our energy policy is part of the health debate when you look at air quality,” she said going on to voice concerns about obesity. The country spends $100 Billion a year on medical matters related to obesity and another $500 Billion on heart disease. She wants to ban trans-fats to encourage people to eat calories with more nutrition and to increase reimbursement rates for school lunches so schools can serve children actual chicken and not a frozen, processed item. She wants mandatory physical education for children for an hour a day in schools and she wants health insurance to cover dietary counseling for all.
At the end Gillibrand was asked to push for a public option while her party holds a majority in the senate. A robust, aggressive public option would drive prices down. She was also asked to make insurance companies subject to anti-trust laws. She said that the Senate just has to do something to help, to take a step forward and to start making changes.

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