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Sebelius joins in on Foster's second tele-town hall phone conference

DeKALB – U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Batavia, held his second tele-town hall meeting about health care reform Monday night, alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

While Foster took the lead on most constituents’ questions, Sebelius spoke on behalf of President Obama’s perspective when a caller’s question focused on federal policy.

The two spoke from Washington, D.C.

The most lengthy, elaborate answers came in response to questions about tort reform, paying for a health care plan, possible increases in taxes, and changes to Medicare.

Foster told callers he would sign national health care legislation only if it covers those with pre-existing conditions, cuts medical and health insurance costs for families and small businesses, and is affordable and paid for through legislation without passing debt on to future generations.

When a caller from Algonquin asked whether Democrats are “serious about tort reform in the bill,” Foster laid out three issues he finds important in regard to tort reform. These included legislation that caps the amount of money a jury can award for non-economic damages, defensive medicine on the part of doctors and lowering the rate of medical accidents.

“The way to lower malpractice rates is to lower the rate of [medical] errors,” Foster said.

He said better technology should be incorporated to streamline medical practices, communication between doctors and patients should improve and leaders should find a way to reduce frivolous lawsuits.

Sebelius said Obama had asked her to work on tort reform.

“The president takes this pretty seriously,” Sebelius said.

A caller from Yorkville asked how much taxes would increase if national health care reform is approved, and followed up with a question about how much further the country will be driven into debt because of it.

“Part of the money that goes into covering every man, woman and child is money we’re already spending,” Foster said.

He said his preference would be to increase tax rates for the top 1 percent of earners in the U.S. That would include individuals who make $270,000 per year or more or families making $350,000 or more per year, he said.

Later, a caller from DeKalb, who identified herself as a senior citizen who relies on prescription drugs, said she worries about drug companies charging more and more for drugs that are available for lower prices in other countries, such as Canada.

Sebelius explained that certain drugs used to treat cancer and other specialized diseases are unavailable in generic forms. Speeding up the process by which these drugs become available as more affordable generics would go a long way in making certain drugs more affordable, she said.

Shannon O’Brien, communications director for the congressman, said nearly 80,000 households were invited to participate in the phone conference, and that 11,000 people had tuned in by about 8 p.m.

During Foster’s first tele-town hall, held Sept. 2, 15,000 people tuned in at some point during the hour-long conference call, O’Brien said. She added that of those 15,000 people, the highest number of people tuned in at a given time was about 2,600 people and that the average caller remained on the line for 20 minutes.

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