November 13, 2009
Cortland High students talk health care with Arcuri
Congressman fields questions from social studies students about health care bill
Rep. Michael Arcuri explained the national health care bill passed by Congress this week as something long overdue on many levels, as he faced students Thursday at Cortland Junior-Senior High School.
Arcuri (D-Utica) opened by explaining why he voted in favor of the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which was passed in the House by a 220-215 vote Saturday night and will now be considered in the Senate next week.
“I supported the bill not just as a moral imperative to see that all members of society get insured, but also as an economic imperative,” he said to about 80 students in a large-group classroom. “Why do I say that?”
“Because we spend a lot of money paying for the uninsured,” one student said.
“To help make health insurance more affordable,” said junior James Williams.
“Yes,” said Arcuri, adding that he is excited about many aspects of the bill, such as its promise that people can remain dependents of their parents’ plans up until age 27, and the provision that people cannot be denied coverage for a prior health condition. He said “prior condition” can include domestic abuse.
Arcuri said Congress members like to joke that they are glad to get past the health care bill so they can focus on less complex issues like the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The students, mostly juniors, were from four social studies courses. The “town meeting” was coordinated by social studies teacher Christine Gregory.
Noting that the only Republican who voted for the bill, Joe Cao, was from Louisiana, a student asked what impact that vote would have on his career. Arcuri said Cao would not be affected as his district is heavily Democrat and he said he supported the bill because his district has so many poor people who cannot get insurance.
A student asked why 39 Democrats did not vote for the bill. Arcuri said some Americans do not want the federal government involved in their insurance and health care choices.
“My district is split over this like nothing I’ve seen,” he said. “There is a lot of misinformation.”
A few students challenged the constitutionality of the bill, asking about state rights versus the federal government. Arcuri defended the bill.
He said many people support the idea of universal health care but not this bill, which would take effect in 2013.
Sophomore Maggie West asked if the new system would deny care to people if their care costs too much, as in the British system. Arcuri said no, the new system would not be a single-payer one like England’s and Canada’s, it would resemble Germany’s more.
Junior Jacob Klinger asked why socialism has such a stigma.
“Because we’re in a capitalist society,” Arcuri said. “We all want to be millionaires. What has made America great? Our ability to come here from other countries and find opportunity that is not based on who we are, what family we were born into.”
Arcuri also discussed a series of questions from a student about the Constitution’s definition of state versus federal rights.
“He was very well-spoken,” Klinger said afterward. “He had some clear-cut opposition in the audience and he handled it very well.”
Williams said Arcuri explained issues well.
Senior Beau Lacey asked afterward about what the United States can do in Afghanistan. Arcuri said President Barack Obama is moving slowly because he senses that he has only one chance to achieve success there, knowing Americans are growing impatient.
“If you think we were successful in Iraq,” he said, “it’s because of our ‘soft power,’ not just our military plan. That is what will work in Afghanistan.”
Arcuri said people in his district are wondering if the health care bill will do what it is intended to, now that it has been passed and sent to the Senate. He hopes the Senate will not dilute the public option part of the bill.
Arcuri said he approaches high school audiences with respect.
“I try to be sincere and communicate, but not on their level,” he said. “I try to talk about my children and make fun of myself, get students to look at me as someone like their parents.”
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