PHOENIX — A group of Democratic state lawmakers announced Tuesday their support for national health-care reform, with plans to travel the state to talk about the issue and report findings back to the White House.
State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, is heading the Arizonans for Health Reform Task Force, and has also been selected by President Obama to represent the state as part of his health care reform efforts.
At a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, Sinema and her colleagues said Obama's efforts are particularly important to Arizona, where they said nearly 20 percent of people are uninsured.
"People are paying more for health insurance that covers less everyday," said Sinema, assistant minority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives. "Families are concerned with eroding benefits, higher premiums and a loss of coverage on a daily basis."
Key to changing the system, Sinema said, is allowing for a public option — basically a government insurance program, like Medicare, that would be open to everyone.
The plan would only be an option, allowing those with private insurance to remain with their provider. And care would still be administered privately.
"President Obama has said time and time again that for people like myself, who have health care plans that we enjoy — if you like what you have, you can keep it," Sinema said.
Such a program would be particularly beneficial to people who cannot afford or find coverage because of preexisting health conditions, Sinema and the other legislators said.
In a letter to President Obama Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Southern Arizona Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said he and his roughly 80 members are troubled by recent reports the White House may be backing away from a public opinion.
Grijalva said he and the members of his caucus "cannot support final passage of any health care reform bill that does not include a robust public plan option, akin to Medicare, operating alongside the private plans."
"I consider it unacceptable for any of the cost savings that you are negotiating with hospitals and other sectors of the health care industry to be made contingent upon a robust public plan option not being included in the final legislation," Grijalva said.
Other Democratic members of Arizona's congressional delegation, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson, have been less vocal. Giffords held a health-care town hall in May that drew more than 1,000 people.
On Tuesday, she said all options should be explored, including a public option, but she did not endorse the idea or provide specifics about what she wants to see in a reform package.
"Congresswoman Giffords believes that we must protect what works and fix what's broken," spokesman C.J. Karmargin said Tuesday. "Health-care reform should reduce cost, protect choice and assure affordability. She wants to see viable, pragmatic solutions that can succeed and all proposals should be given serious consideration, including a public option. This isn't going to be easy but health-care reform is not an option — it's an imperative."
Sinema said part of the task force's work will be to talk with the state's congressional delegation, bringing in both parties.
"We'll be encouraging them to support a national health insurance option that reduces costs, protects choice and ensures affordable and quality care for all Americans," Sinema said.
The task force will also be meeting with health-care providers and business owners, and will tour hospitals to study efforts that have worked to lower costs. Sinema will be holding public forums, including two in the Tucson area in August.