Rep. Dennis Cardoza has some of the same concerns as other "Blue Dog" Democrats about the Obama administration's proposals for sweeping health care reform.
The Merced Democrat said a House bill favored by the president doesn't have enough cost controls, and he questions how many people could afford to buy the required coverage. The bill also would require recession-weary small-business owners to provide health insurance for employees or pay fees.
"I support the concept of health care reform," Cardoza said, "but I am not committed to any particular legislation until the bill is written correctly."
Cardoza was responding to health care advocacy groups that held a rally Tuesday near his downtown Modesto office, urging him to vote for the bill in the House of Representatives. About 30 people holding signs alongside J Street called for passing motorists to "honk for health care" and later met with Cardoza's staff at Tenth Street Place.
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Oakland-based Health Care for America Now led the rally, supported by members of the Modesto Teachers Association, other labor groups and grass-roots organizations. A similar rally was held outside the office of Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.
The group said support from moderate to conservative Democrats will be critical to passing health care reform this year. The Blue Dogs are a group of more than 50 Democrats from conservative congressional districts.
"These reforms will cost money, but it will cost a lot more if we don't do anything," said Linda Leu of Health Care for America Now.
Backers of reform believe there's a small window of time for overhauling the nation's health system, with the midterm elections looming in 2010. But it is appearing doubtful that key legislation will be passed before Congress starts its summer recess Aug. 7.
"There are a number of us who feel we have to address these concerns," said Cardoza, who keeps an updated tab of the national debt on his Web site. "We need to take time to do it right."
Cardoza said he is well aware of the health needs of uninsured Americans. His 18th Congressional District, which includes Merced County and parts of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, has one of the highest concentrations of uninsured people in the nation.
Recent state budget cuts took such benefits as dental and podiatric care away from adults covered by Medi-Cal, slashed other programs, and are expected to cause thousands of valley children to lose Healthy Families coverage.
People at the rally said it's time to fix the system.
"I have a lot of health problems," said Becky Soria, a coordinator for San Joaquin Grassroots Action of Stockton. "I've had to file bankruptcy once before because of medical bills."
It's not hard to find other residents who believe the reform proposals are moving too fast.
"I would hate to see us jump in with both feet and not know where we are going," said William Fogarty, an Oakdale cattle rancher who has a high-deductible plan to insure against catastrophic illness.
The federal government could start by offering a catastrophic insurance option for people spurned by private insurers, he said. "Make that work first and then go from there."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.