Healthcare reform and environmental issues dominated a forum with U.S. Representative Rob Wittman (R-Va.) held in Washington Hall last night.
The forum was sponsored by the College Republicans, Students for a Better Williamsburg and the Student Environmental Action Coalition. Approximately 50 students attended.
Wittman said that although he voted against a healthcare reform bill that recently passed in the House of Representatives — both parties recognize that the issue requires change.
“I don’t think there’s any disagreement that we absolutely have to fix our healthcare system,” Wittman said. “Right now, we spend 17 percent of our gross domestic product on healthcare. That’s increasing at a 1 percent rate per year — absolutely unsustainable. The question boils down to how do we do it? How do we do it in the most efficient way? How do we make sure these dollars are getting to the patients for care and not elsewhere in the system?”
Wittman cited concerns with the passed legislation’s financial foundations in light of the funding problems with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He did agree, however, that all Americans should be able to purchase health insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions.
“I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “I think we ought to, in this country, make sure that people have access to the health insurance system regardless of pre-existing condition. That’s not a bad thing.”
According to Wittman, the nation’s money would be better spent funding aggressive research for the most prominent diseases in the United States, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Such research would prevent greater healthcare costs down the road, Wittman argued.
“If we just put money there, we could actually reduce the cost associated with that because we could make sure we found either more effective ways to treat those diseases or the cures for those diseases,” he said. “If we’re not looking at how we can really prevent disease down the road, we’re going to be adding to the costs in this particular system.”
Citing his 27-year career in the state health and environmental departments, the congressman also discussed the Chesapeake Bay, which borders the eastern edge of his district.
“In my years in public health, many of those were spent in seafood safety, so I got to see what was happening with water quality day in and day out,” he said. “The bay, at best, at the very best, is just marking time. That is, it’s not getting any worse, but it’s not getting any better.”
Compared to statistics from the 1950s, Wittman said, the Bay today has much lower diversity and productivity. According to him, the Bay has seen a serious drop in oxygen levels and a precipitous rise in dangerous chemicals and other byproducts, with many areas unable to sustain life in any form.
“In order to have a healthy bay, we have to do more in a couple of areas,” he said.
Two key steps to improving the Bay’s environmental quality are increasing the amount of chlorophyll-a, a nutritious source of food for fish, and working harder to prevent nitrogen and phosphorous from entering the ecosystem, thereby increasing oxygen levels.
“If we leave any one part of the puzzle out, we will not be successful,” he said.
Wittman also touched on funding for higher education.
“One of the big issues going forward is to make sure we have sustainability going forward with institutions of higher learning,” he said. “They have to be given flexibility, too, in how they are able to run their university.”
Wittman said the state and federal government can do more to allow universities to seek out new, private sources of funding — something he said College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley has been working on.
“What we want to make sure is our institutions here in Virginia have the flexibility to think outside the box, not necessarily be limited as far as what they can do within the state structure of purchasing, the state structure of operations,” he said. “President Reveley’s been pretty good about saying, ‘Look, let’s look outside of them. Let’s look at ways that allow us to leverage other private dollars to bring those in, to keep tuition rates down. Also, how can we operate outside of this box that the state places these institutions to operate in?’ So he’s been very good about that.”