Roe’s TeleTown Hall focuses on health care and foreign policy

Published 9:43 am Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Roe TeleTown

Health care issues and foreign policy topped the list of concerns voiced by residents of the First Congressional District during a TeleTown Hall meeting Tuesday evening.

The meeting, held by U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, was a telephone conference where constituents received an update on current events at the Capitol and had the chance to ask the congressman questions.

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Several callers expressed concerns with the status of healthcare availability through the Veterans Affairs medical centers and they voiced specific issues they have with the VA Medical Center at Mountain Home in Johnson City.

One caller told Roe he had called to make an appointment at the Mountain Home VA and was told it would be 120 days before he could get in to see a doctor. The man said the person on the phone told him five doctors had quit and had not been replaced so their patients were being spread out among other available doctors.

Another caller, a woman, said not only is she a veteran, she is also an employee at the Mountain Home VA and she has also had difficulty in getting appointments for the medical care she needs. A third caller also reported having problems obtaining needed appointments.

“We have to do better than this,” Roe said. “We’ve got to find out how systemic it is.”

Wait times for patient care was at the heart of a major national controversy that rocked the VA medical center system about a year ago after whistle blowers reported secret waiting lists and appointment practices.

In the wake of the scandal, a voucher system was approved to allow veterans to seek healthcare outside the VA system if appointments were not readily available.

“If you cannot get an appointment within 30 days you are supposed to be given the option to get your care in the private sector,” Roe said.

Roe, who is not only a retired physician but also a military veteran, sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee. The congressman instructed his staff to get the names and contact information of the callers reporting difficulty in obtaining their healthcare and promised that he would look into the matter personally.

In other healthcare matters, a caller expressed concern with the pending merger of Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont. The caller wanted to know if there was a watchdog group who would monitor the system’s pricing and quality of care once the merger is complete, citing a statement Roe previously made that the merger would create a healthcare monopoly in the region.

“In today’s environment, if you combine both systems, then there is only one system and that is a monopoly. There is no other word for what that is,” Roe said. But he added that being a monopoly does not mean the system would necessarily be bad.

However, Roe said he did not think the healthcare system’s pricing would create much of an issue.

“Right now at the Medical Center, 70 percent of the payers are Medicaid or Medicare,” Roe said. “There is no free market system in healthcare any longer. Those prices are set by the federal government.”

The merger would be a complicated agreement that would require governing agencies in Tennessee and Virginia to sign off on it.

“You are going to see a lot of scrutiny with this,” Roe said. “They are trying to keep the outfit local and maintain the control here to keep some outside outfit from coming in and taking over.”

“I don’t think they are trying to make the prices go up. I think they are trying to keep the prices down,” he added. “I applaud both boards and what they are trying to do.”

Callers also expressed concern with the recent treaty agreement President Barack Obama reached with Iran regarding nuclear arms.

Congress does not support the treaty agreement, Roe said, adding Congress wants to enforce stiffer sanctions against Iran rather than removing sanctions.

One point of contention Roe has with the plan is with the level of enriched uranium Iran will be allowed to maintain.

“You don’t need 20 percent enriched uranium for peaceful purposes; you use it for offensive purposes,” Roe said. “There is no other reason to have uranium that enriched other than to make a nuclear bomb with it.”

“Iran is the biggest exporter of state-sponsored terrorism in the world,” he added. “Don’t be shocked if these people use a weapon of mass destruction to accomplish that effect.”