Business Owner Welcomes Bush, But Not His Ideas on Health Care

Cliff Broumand, left, with President Bush, said he did not get a chance to air his views on health care during a round-table discussion.
Cliff Broumand, left, with President Bush, said he did not get a chance to air his views on health care during a round-table discussion. ( Pool Photo By Martin H. Simon)
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The entrepreneur who hosted President Bush last week for a roundtable discussion on health care and small business said yesterday that he could barely get a word in as Bush opined on children's health insurance and other health topics.

If he had, Clifton Broumand would have told the president he disagreed with him on most of it, he said.

"He answered his own questions," said Broumand, who gave Bush a tour of Man & Machine Inc., the Landover-based medical computer accessory company he founded 25 years ago. "I thought the whole concept was to ask us, so I was a little bit frustrated. I would have liked the opportunity to give him my viewpoint, rather than him knowing the answer."

Bush used the occasion -- a discussion with three small-business owners -- to denounce efforts in Congress to expand the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion or more over the next five years.

Supporters, including some Republicans, say that would help provide health coverage to nearly 10 million low-income children. But Bush, who wants to add only $5 billion in funding over five years, warned that expanding the federal role in health care could hurt private insurance and ultimately lead to rationing of care. Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on expanding the program before the congressional recess begins in August.

"I believe government cannot provide affordable health care," said Bush, who has said he would veto the legislation. "I believe it would cause the quality of care to diminish. I believe there would be lines and rationing over time."

The president also touted his own preferred solution -- changing the tax code to create a new deduction that would help people pay for insurance. That idea has fallen flat in the Democratic-controlled Congress, however.

For Broumand, a Democrat who did not vote for Bush, expanding the insurance program for children is a no-brainer. More than 8 million children lack health insurance, according to the Census Bureau. Without coverage, Broumand said, they are less likely to get preventive care and more likely to need expensive emergency room visits, with the costs absorbed by consumers.

"My personal feeling is that the plan should be to cover every child, whether it's private or federal," he said. "When you don't cover children, what ends up happening is that when kids are sick, which happens in my office, parents aren't productive. They have to go home."

Broumand said he is not in favor of a government-run health system. But he is no fan of insurance companies either. The plan he offers to his 28 employees costs $300 a month for individuals and $800 for family coverage. The business pays $5,600 a month for health insurance -- more than it spends on rent -- and premiums have increased 73 percent since 2003, he said.

Private insurers "are like the Godfather -- they make you an offer you can't refuse," Broumand said. "When my insurance goes up 73 percent in four years, that's a tax. . . . All these things are hidden taxes."

Since 45 million Americans lack insurance, there already is "de facto" rationing, he argued.

As for changing the tax code, Broumand said it might be worth a try, but he is not optimistic that it would do much good. Changing the tax code usually brings unintended consequences, he said, and the new deduction would be likely to benefit higher-income people more than less affluent ones.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said the fact that Broumand disagrees with the president shows that the administration does not stack Bush's public events with partisans.

"If people are invited to a meeting with the president, that's their opportunity to express their views," Fratto said. "The president worked his way around the table and invited everyone to say what they thought. He certainly could have taken advantage of that if he wanted to."

Another roundtable participant, restaurant owner Michael Kostinsky of Maryland, said he, too, would have liked to have been heard more. But unlike Broumand, he generally likes Bush's health-care prescriptions, he said.

Kostinsky, a Republican, pays $1,500 a month for health insurance for himself, his wife and son. The plan has a $3,000 annual deductible. Ten years ago he decided he could no longer afford to provide insurance for workers at his restaurant, Sorrento of Arbutus, but he does not think "socialized medicine" is the answer.

"Why can't they give us more of a deduction for our health insurance or more tax credits for providing it to employees?" Kostinsky asked. "Then at the end of the year it's not quite the burden of paying taxes and trying to make a profit and grow the business."

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