Prescription drugs, one speedbump on the path to health care reform. (Photo credit higlu, Flickr.com)
Christmas is less than two weeks away, and the clock is ticking loudly for Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who wants a health care bill before the holidays. As the Democrats have desperately tried to accelerate the legislation’s passage this month, there have been two main speed bumps: abortion and the public option. And a third one, about importing low-cost prescription drugs, just emerged a few days ago.
President Obama called a White House meeting with all 60 members of the Democratic caucus on Tuesday, according to an Associated Press story. Here’s a quick review of the key issues that have brought the legislation to its current standstill.
The Abortion Debate
Anti-abortion lawmakers don’t want those receiving federal assistance with their health insurance to be able to purchase policies that include abortion services, while pro-choice legislators think this goes too far. As it stands now, for health insurance purchased with the help of federal subsidies, the Senate health care bill would require insurers to segregate federal funds from money paid directly by the policy holder and use only the latter to cover abortions.
Last Tuesday, Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) tried and failed to introduce an amendment that was essentially language from the House bill to further restrict abortions by preventing any federally-subsidized health plan from offering abortion coverage. Though it might seem like a small victory for abortion-rights advocates, the Democrats really want Nelson’s vote to make up the 60 that will block a Republican filibuster.
In an effort to win Nelson’s vote, “Mr. Reid kept out of the Senate bill a provision to strip the insurance industry of its decades-old exemption from federal antitrust laws despite pressure from other Democrats,” according to The Associated Press.
The Nevada Senator also allowed Nelson’s proposed abortion amendment to come to a vote, knowing it would fail. And by naming him one of 10 Democrats negotiating the bill in private, Reid has kept Nelson in the circle of influence, the Associated Press reported.
But unless Nelson gets the tougher abortion restrictions he wants on the health care bill, the Democrats won’t have his support.
Is Public an Option?
After much resistance from Republicans, and some moderate Democrats, to the public option that would entail a government-run health insurer competing with private companies, the proposal was essentially scrapped. In its place, an alternate proposal would create a nationwide health plan conformed to government benefit requirements, but operated by a private nonprofit, according to The Los Angeles Times. “Modeled on the plan federal employees use, it would provide consumers with another option in the state insurance exchanges that would be established by the bill,” The Times reported.
Also included in the proposal was an expansion of the Medicare program that would allow those as young as 55-years-old to buy into the program. Currently, the program only covers those age 65 and older.
There has been great objection to the Medicare buy-in by health care providers because the government reimburses them at a lower rate than private insurance companies. And according to them, in some cases, the reimbursements don’t even cover the cost of treatment, forcing providers to shift more costs to the private sector, The Times reported. On the other hand, the proposal’s supporters argue that expanding the Medicare pool would place more pressure on providers to cut costs and be efficient.
These alternatives to the public option were made as concessions in the hopes that the Democrats could finally get 60 votes. And while at first, it seemed to backers of the bill that they had won the approval of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Connecticut), a strong opponent to the public option, he said on Sunday that he would not support the bill in its current form, The New York Times wrote.
Now some Senators are saying the Medicare buy-in might be dropped as well, according to Bloomberg.
Read more about the proposed pros and cons of the Medicare buy-in here.
Importing Low-Cost Prescription Medication
Many Democrats and Republicans are for allowing the importation of low-cost prescription medication from Canada and other countries, but as expected, the drug industry is vehemently against it, The Chicago Tribune reported. Support from the drug industry is crucial to the health care bill’s passage, however, and that’s what brought the health care debate to a temporary halt on Friday.
Check back with The Independent for the third installment, and updated news coverage as the health care debate rages on.