Liberals, centrists praise tentative health reform deal

Prez Obama and Sen. Reid

Health care reform advocates in Congress and some conservative Democrats who have been resisting reform say the reported Senate compromise puts substantive health care reform within reach.

The deal expands the role of government in the nation's health care system. In place of a public option, it includes a choice from among nonprofit health plans under the oversight of the government's Office of Personnel Management. The government would negotiate with private benefit plans that mirror those offered to members of Congress.

The plan would also open Medicare to Americans at age 55, who could "buy in" to get that coverage.

The compromise features a trigger where the federal government could get more involved if insurance companies are not stepping in or are charging rates that are too high. The trigger could allow the government to add a public option.

President Obama praised the compromise as "a creative new framework that I believe will help pave the way for final passage of legislation and a historic achievement for the American people."

"I support this effort," he said, "especially since it's aimed at increasing choice and competition and lowering cost."

The provision that opens Medicare to uninsured individuals between the ages of 55 and 64 was lauded by some progressive lawmakers, including supporters of single-payer health insurance.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., called it "an unvarnished, complete victory for people like me who have been arguing for a single-payer system." Weiner found irony in the compromise, saying, "This is the weirdest Kabuki dance. To get conservative Democrats, we have to expand the Medicare program."

Howard Dean, the former Democratic Party chairman and a backer of a government-run insurance option, said, "Using Medicare makes more sense than reinventing more bureaucracy."

Despite the praise from the president and many liberals, and the usual opposition from the Republicans, there are critics from across the political spectrum.

They include, the progressive group, which issued a statement saying Democrats had "bargained away the heart of health care reform allowing conservative senators like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson to hold the process hostage and protect Big Insurance."

Insurers, private hospitals and some doctors are opposing the expansion of Medicare because of potential for lower payment rates.

The Mayo Clinic Health Policy Center attacked the plan. Expanding Medicare to individuals 55 to 64 years old, it said, "would ultimately hurt patients by accelerating the financial ruin of hospitals and doctors across the country."

Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, took aim at an amendment that would allow importation of cheaper medicines from Canada and elsewhere saying, "it could expose Americans to counterfeit and substandard drug products."

The Aetna insurance company came out against a feature of the compromise plan that mandates that 90 percent of premiums go to benefits for patients.

Liberal lawmakers appear to be pleased, however, that there is a framework for compromise that both they and centrists can support, enabling a united group of health care reform supporters to face off against die-hard Republican opponents.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, the conservative Louisiana Democrat who resisted the public option, said the Medicare expansion could help small business. "There are a lot of small business people who are between the ages of 55 and 64," she said. "If that were done it would provide some real relief to them."

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said she approved of the national plans being administered by the government. "The Office of Personnel Management being the negotiator will help, I think, be able to bring the best product forward," she said.

On the liberal side, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a strong supporter of single-payer, argued that "the Medicare buy-in might be superior to the forms of public option previously under discussion."

Even Lynn Woolsey, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, whose members have pledged to vote against any plan without a public option, would not go so far as to say that House progressives would block a final package modeled on the Senate compromise. "Progressives are looking for affordability and competition for private insurance plans," Woolsey said, "and if they aren't satisfied, they'll have a hard time voting for the final bill."

Some say that opening Medicare to those 55 and over could, depending upon how it is done, have profound effects far beyond health care. Todd Swim, with the Mercer health benefits consulting firm, noted that "those 55 to 65 are the most expensive for employers to cover, and they pay the most if they have to buy coverage on their own. Access to medical care is one of the biggest inhibitors to retiring early, and a lot of people are going to be looking at that as an option."

Others warn that a political fight will be necessary to guarantee that a Medicare buy-in really works to benefit the people.

"My greater fear is that the ‘Medicare buy-in' can be gutted of all value," said FireDogLake's Jon Walker. He warned that Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., "is pushing to decouple this Medicare buy-in from real Medicare. He wants people in this fake Medicare to pay much higher reimbursement rates and be placed in a separate risk pool. The people in fake Medicare might not even be able to use the Medicare provider network. This will make the premiums for buy-in Medicare dramatically higher."

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, told reporters premiums would total about $7,600 annually until federal subsidies became available in 2014. That amounts to more than $600 a month, far higher than the $96.40 paid by beneficiaries 65 and older.

Photo: President Obama, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meets with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)


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  • After making my comment I read about the upcoming New York event.

    The call to this event encourages people to back Barack Obama's healthcare proposals. Why back Obama's proposals when Obama has admitted single-payer universal healthcare is the best solution while he campaigned for office. His tune sure has changed instead of providing the change we need.

    Gina Gianlorenzi
    Pittsburg, PA

    Posted by Gina Gianlorenzi, 12/15/2009 7:43pm (6 years ago)

  • What do the 40 million people without healthcare think?

    Does it really matter what any politicians who ditched single-payer think of their own legislation aimed at protecting the profits of the insurance companies?

    We need the views of working people in this newspaper. You reporters should be out hitting the streets at plant gates and where the poor are.

    Why not include a link to the legislation when doing articles like this so the PW becomes more interactive?

    Many states have very good legislation on paper when it comes to who has access to programs based on income but then you find out you own one clunker too many or you own a small row boat disqualifying you or you have $600.00 in the bank when you can only have $300.00.

    Who cares if doctors and hospitals suffer financial ruin?

    What we need is socialized healthcare to take business out of healthcare altogether. Put the doctors on the government payroll and pay them like teachers. Take over the hospitals and let the government run them.

    Defeat this legislation and make these politicians start over again keeping in mind what the people want by way of healthcare reform.

    Gina Gianlorenzi
    Pittsburg, PA

    Posted by Gina Gianlorenzi, 12/15/2009 7:36pm (6 years ago)

  • I think the expansion of Medicaid to all under 300% of the poverty level is progressive. The Medicare "buy in" is just going to affect the part of the population most likely to already have health insurance, and it won't affect the cost for consumers because insurance companies lose money on insuring the elderly anyway and will just have an extra excuse to deny them coverage. In contrast, a public option would have allowed any uninsured person to choose a better managed government plan on the market, driving down prices. Way to screw over everyone under 55, compromisers!

    Posted by Mick Diddams, 12/11/2009 8:00pm (6 years ago)

  • Padi, the problem is that the CPUSA - which has for a long time been a supporter of single payer - has soft-pedaled that long-held position in favor of the Obama reform, which won't take us in that direction. Communists should be organizing for single payer now, not saying it's a long term goal and then carrying water for a bill that is a huge gift to the insurance companies.

    I think the disarmament of progressive forces on health care has let the far right take the initiative on the question, which is a tremendous shame and even worse than a potential failure of Obama's plan to pass.

    Nicholas is unfortunately right. This site has been more liberal than Marxist, and that's a shame because a sane left voice is really needed at this point in history.

    Posted by W.R., 12/11/2009 10:29am (6 years ago)

  • It seems to me that this is at least some progress towards a comprehensive healthcare system, even though it stops short of being universal.

    Rome was not built in a day, and hopefully one day the USA will have a universal healthcare system that builds on the experience we have had here in the UK since 1948. Our system is far from perfect and has many variables, such as some treatments available in some areas, but not in others. However, it isn't as bad as I know some detractors in the USA have painted it. No human made system is perfect, least of all healthcare.

    Generally though, political support of our National Health Service is universal: it would be political suicide for any government of any colour to try and abolish it - something that was far from certain in the early days.

    All I can say is keep on campaigning until you get the system you want.

    Posted by Padi Phillips, 12/11/2009 10:15am (6 years ago)

  • I see the newest CNN poll finds greater support (53% to 46%) for a "public option" than for the Senate Health Care Bill which just 36% support, and 61% oppose...

    Andrew Taylor

    Posted by Andrew Taylor, 12/11/2009 12:21am (6 years ago)

  • So, we have the liberals and centrists' views. What's the communist view on this tentative health reform deal? The Communist Party USA and the People's Weekly World have traditionally been for single-payer but have been pushing Obamacare - which comes with mandates that working people pay insurance companies money. Why accept this "reform" which is a gift ot insurance cos but isn't a benefit to many workers?

    The liberals and centrists all have dozens of press organs to promote their views. Why don't you focus on the communist view?

    Posted by W.R., 12/10/2009 5:29pm (6 years ago)

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