HOUGHTON - While job creation continues to be the No. 1 issue for Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, he took the opportunity during a visit to the area Tuesday to draw upon his 30 years as a medical doctor, and the results of a new study, to address concerns about Medicare and health care.
A new study released in September by the University of Minnesota Medical Industry Leadership Industry details the local impact of the $716 billion in Medicare reductions (according to the Congressional Budget Office) through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
According to the study, Medicare payments in Houghton County will be cut by $68.5 million over the next 10 years, while payments in Ontonagon County ($25 million), Baraga County ($21.2 million) and Keweenaw County ($7.8 million) will also be cut.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, left, talks with Keweenaw National Historical Park officials (From left, Tom Baker, management assistant, Superintendent Mike Pflaum, and park Chief of Preservation Services Charles Masten) during a tour Tuesday of the park’s Calumet Visitor Center. Benishek also stopped at The Daily Mining Gazette office in Houghton for an interview about Medicare and other issues.
The 32 counties of Michigan's first congressional district, the second largest district east of the Mississippi River, are projected to see $2 billion in cuts, and Benishek is on a "32 (counties) in 32 (days)" tour of the district making people aware of that fact during his re-election campaign.
"Frankly, as a doctor, I'm concerned about this," Benishek said during an interview at The Daily Mining Gazette. "I stopped at the Aspirus Hospital in Ontonagon (Monday) and they're pretty concerned about what's going to happen to the hospital."
Benishek notes that his opponent, Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, who he defeated by 11 percent in 2010, supports Obama's health care plan.
"He's all in favor of the president's laws and he's supporting these cuts. ... It's all well and good for the president to cut waste, but these hospitals have cut waste for the last 20 years and the administrators I've talked to are really worried about being able to keep their hospitals open," Benishek said.
The plan he voted for, which was proposed by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, would not change for people 55 years and older, and people 54 and younger would have the option of traditional Medicare or private insurance plans - what McDowell calls vouchers.
"It's not a voucher. It's that the government is going to pay the premium, that's different," Benishek said. "To me it's about options, people having different options, not having the government dictate what their health care is going to be."
While the government would regulate Medicare, Benishek believes "sensible regulations" are important. He doesn't feel that same senisbility is carrying over to business regulations, which he said are stifling small businesses.
"My concern about the economy and having private sector jobs is the No. 1 issue," Benishek said. "My opponent doesn't have any ideas as to how to improve the economy; he just criticizes my ideas."
Benishek feels he is running a clean campaign in what is shaping up to be a race with potential national significance as Democrats seek a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"I think I've done a good job for the district," Benishek said. "I have been in all counties of the district several times. I don't know that my opponent has been around. ... I've been out there. I tell people what I'm doing. I tell people how I've voted. We tell people why I've voted: We want jobs in northern Michigan. That's the main reason I'm here."
He said important progress has been made on mining and forestry, two sectors that have historically had significant economic impact on the region.
"If we can get the government to have some reasonable regulations, we can pull the wealth out of the ground and out of the forests and create wealth here in northern Michigan and not depend on the government," he said.
Benishek feels his emphasis on job creation through deregulation and background on health care make him the best candidate for the district once again.
"We have a definite plan for improving the economy in northern Michigan by decreasing these unreasonable regulations, by putting some stability and fairness in new tax reform and to make some real solutions to our health care by having some common sense solutions that bring down the cost, not add more regulatory control or closure of our local hospitals," he said.