Archive for December, 2009

Health Care Negotiators Reach an Uneasy Compromise, But Consensus on Health Care Remains Elusive

Posted on December 9, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

As the Congress sprints toward its year-end recess, Senate negotiators reached a compromise that would strip the controversial “public option” from the package and set the stage for a showdown with the House over who should provide health care coverage for 30 million uninsured Americans.
 
The compromise proposal is expected to attract votes from moderate Democrats, and perhaps even a Republican or two, who have bridled at supporting a public option under which the government would offer health insurance coverage in competition with private insurers. The plan is thought to include a scheme that involves the federal government negotiating to get the insurance industry to offer national health care coverage for individuals and small businesses. Also on the table is a plan to expand Medicare to allow uninsured people 55 to 64 to buy into the plan as an alternative to the public option.
 
But while the plan appears to be uniting Democrats in the Senate, it is certain to be divisive on the other side of the Hill, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has fought hard to protect the public option. Early reactions indicated the White House would be supportive of a compromise package that moves away from the public option.
The proposal was hammered out during round-the-clock negotiation sessions among a group of five liberal and five moderate Democrats. Still, its future is hardly certain and not even the 10 negotiators are sure they’ll back it.
 
Some Republicans saw the talk of compromise as a desperate eleventh-hour attempt by Democrats to try and save the bill: “Americans would rather get it right than scurry around throwing together last-minute untested experiments to get 60 votes before Christmas,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the GOP leader.
 
Meanwhile, the Senate shot down an amendment offered by Sen. Ben Nelson (R-Neb.) that would have banned coverage for abortions under any government plan and prohibit the use of federal insurance subsidies for the purchase of private policies that cover elective abortions.
 
That vote was significant in that it could cost the Democrats Nelson’s vote on the overall package, which would leave the majority one vote shy of the 60 needed for passage if no Republicans support it. And federal funding for health care coverage that includes abortion, which is prohibited in the House version of the bill, could reemerge in the Senate at any time.
 
While some senators are seeking compromise, many Republicans oppose virtually every provision of the bill. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), for example, called the measure “a total failure.”
 
“We think it’s going to stymie innovation. We think it’s going to raise people’s premiums.
We think it’s going to force people off their present health care plan and into the government plan. We think, inevitably, that seniors are going to be negatively impacted in a dramatic way because of the huge cuts to Medicare,” he said on Fox
 
As debate on the bill continued, the White House was clinging to hope that an early resolution could be reached on 2009’s signature issue.
 
“The president has, throughout this process, talked about the importance of getting it done,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said this week. Obama, he said, has “talked about ensuring that those that have insurance will see their costs go down, that we’re serious about addressing the budgetary implications, not just in paying for health care reform but understanding that we’re changing the direction of the cost curve and providing accessible and affordable insurance to those that don’t have it,” he added.
 
Some lawmakers are clearly growing weary of the protracted fight and are anxious to turn their attention to other matters, especially the economy and jobs. Sen. Charles Grassley (D-Iowa) said Americans are more concerned about jobs than health care.
 
“You know, a recent poll was out from Gallup, saying that what the people are really concerned about in this country is jobs, and way down the line comes health care reform. But we’re spending all of our time on health care reform, and we ought to be spending more on job creation,” he said.
 
Obama, meanwhile, said health care reform is a jobs issue.
 
“Even the best trained workers in the world can’t compete if our businesses are saddled with rapidly increasing health care costs, we’re fighting to do what we have discussed in this country for generations: finally reforming our nation’s broken health insurance system and relieving this unsustainable burden,” the president said.
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