2010-12-30 / Front Page

Benishek Shares Early Perspectives on 1st District Job

By Josh Perttunen

Dan Benishek Dan Benishek Dan Benishek, the U.S. Representative-elect for Michigan's 1st Congressional District, encompassing all of the Upper Peninsula and the northern region of the Lower Peninsula, stopped by The St. Ignace News office to weigh in on the new tax bill passed Friday, December 17, the federal health care program and possible solutions to its shortcomings, the benefits of local taxation over federal taxation, and the learning curve of being a new U.S. congressman.

Since defeating former Michigan State Representative Gary McDowell in the November election, Dr. Benishek has been to Washington, D.C., for orientation of the political process at the federal level, to set up his office, and receive committee appointments.

The Marquette physician will serve on the Natural Resources and Veterans Affairs committees, he told The St. Ignace News Tuesday, December 21, and will also be a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus, a group that brings together Republican representatives with experience in the medical field to discuss health care issues in the United States.

With the prevalence of natural resources in his district and the need to provide hospitalization and medical care for its veteran population, both committees are involved in decisions that will have significant impacts in his district, he said.

There are issues with the tax bill Dr. Benishek said he would like to see addressed.

“Unfortunately, the tax bill that was passed still has a deficit in it. There's still spending in there that's not paid for,” he said.

“That's the problem we have,” Dr. Benishek said. “It's disappointing to me to hear politicians say we have to increase taxes. They make it sound as if this law is lowering taxes. It's not lowering taxes, it's keeping them the same.”

“It's not right that, if Congress doesn't do something, the taxes go up automatically. You should have to pass a bill to raise taxes, rather than passing one to keep them the same.”

The tax code also needs an overhaul to be made more fair and understandable, Dr. Benishek said. Confusing regulations contribute to an uncertain climate for business owners. With a consistently shifting tax structure and increased responsibility for employee benefits, it could be a struggle for business owners to know how to proceed.

“We need to cut the spending so we have a balanced budget and people in business can see a sustainable path,” he said. “With this tax bill that just got through, nobody knows what their taxes are going to be. Businesses don't know what their costs are going to be.”

Drawing on his experience as a surgeon, Dr. Benishek will give his input on the health care program implemented this year.

“The problem with it is it didn't really address the cost factor,” he said. “The costs under this plan are just going to go up. There's no incentive for anybody to cut costs.”

An option Dr. Benishek favors is subjecting the healthcare field to market conditions, rather than imposing stringent regulations. He suggests market competition would help stabilize prices for medical services, while he says the current regulations mandate that some facilities are paid more, and some less, for providing the same service.

His view is that costs have been blown out of proportion partly because of the way the healthcare system and health insurance is regulated. He'd like to see health insurance policies customized for patients to help bring costs down.

He'd also like to see more competition among insurance providers in Michigan. With state and federal regulations determining how the insurance companies operate, Dr. Benishek said, this effectively limits the amount of providers who can navigate the system to provide affordable coverage.

“It makes it difficult to get a policy,” Dr. Benishek said. The main provider in the state “gives you a price and you can take it or leave it. You don't really have another company that you can go to.”

Price competition for medical services could be helpful, too.

“When you get your chest Xray, you don't really take the cost of it into consideration at all. You just go to wherever your doctor tells you to go,” Dr. Benishek said. “There's very little purchaser input in the process. If you had that incentive, there'd be different places you could go. There'd be more competition.”

A crucial platform of his campaign was encouraging fiscal responsibility at the federal level, while putting more control in local hands.

“We should have never got into this system where we're accustomed to the government taking 30% of our money to Washington,” Dr. Benishek said, “and then we have to beg via a grant to get our money back.”

More control would be in local hands if federal taxes came down and the local community was the one asking for tax increases as needed, instead, he said.

“The infrastructure depends on these federal grants now, [but] what's wrong with you keeping your money here in town? Your town may have to tax you to pay for [projects], but at least you'd do them your way. You have more control over the spending if it's spent locally than if it's spent in D.C.”

The experience of being a new representative can be compared to going to college for the first time, Dr. Benishek said, complete with renting a tiny apartment, orientation on the layout of Capitol Hill, and learning new things.

“I'm optimistic. I'm excited about it, excited to get started,” he said.

Dr. Benishek will be sworn into office for a two-year term January 5. He realizes he is one voice among many, but will be in the company of an influx of new similarly-minded U.S. Representatives, he said.

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