Senate to move forward on health reform debate

Debate on a new Senate health care bill released by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Nov. 18 is set to begin later this week. According to early analysis, the new Senate bill would impose new regulations on the health insurance industry and create insurance exchanges that include a public insurance option.

The bill would pay for reform through a combination of new taxes on the richest Americans and on insurance companies with the most expensive insurance plans. The $849 billion price tag would also be covered by ending huge government payouts to the privatized Medicare plans created by the Bush administration.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would require everyone to buy health insurance. It would provide subsidies to low and moderate income Americans to do this.

It also would mandate employers in larger firms to buy insurance for their employees. Small businesses would see new tax credits and subsidies to buy coverage.

The Senate bill would give consumers the choice among insurance that either include or exclude abortion coverage.

In a statement, Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, applauded the release of the Senate bill. “The introduction of the Senate’s health insurance reform bill puts us closer than ever to providing families in America with insurance coverage they can count on,” she said.

The Senate bill “would prevent insurance companies from denying or dropping coverage based on gender, age, or a pre-existing condition,” Ness added. “It also triggers some badly needed changes to the way we pay for and deliver health care that would result in both quality improvements and cost-savings.”

Director of White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle expressed strong optimism about the final passage of the bill. “The challenges facing our health care system aren’t new,” she told reporters. “We know they’ll get worse if we fail to act. “

A letter from 20 leading health economists to President Obama this week praised the Senate bill because “it will reduce long-term deficits, improve the quality of care, and put the nation on a firm fiscal footing.”

In an e-mail to constituents, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, said that bill will go through a dramatic amendments process before final passage. “At the end of this process,” she explained, “I hope to support legislation that stops unfair practices by insurance companies, makes health care affordable for families and small businesses, and protects Medicare for years to come.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu, in a floor speech before the release of the new bill, said that her support for reforms centers fixing the impact of the current broken health system on small businesses. “The unpredictable and unsustainable and skyrocketing cost of healthcare to small businesses in America is damaging their ability to grow,” she noted.

A White House Council of Economic Advisors report last summer indicated that small business owners pay an 18 percent premium on health insurance plans for themselves and their employees. Small business owners say that rising premiums have made health coverage unaffordable.

President Obama lauded the release of the new bill and urged quick action. “From day one, our goal has been to enact legislation that offers stability and security to those who have insurance and affordable coverage to those who don’t, and that lowers costs for families, businesses and governments across the country,” the president said in a statement Nov. 18.

According to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office, the bill would reduce the federal deficit, control the growth of health care costs and provide nearly universal coverage. A CBO score of the bill agreed. In the first decade the reform package would reduce the deficit by almost $130 billion and another $650 billion tens after that.

A majority of Americans appear to support major provisions in the new bill. A recent poll by the Associated Press showed that almost six in 10 Americans support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to pay for health reform. Several other polls show that a majority of Americans want health reform to include the choice of a public insurance plan.

Reid’s office said that with Senate procedures taken care of this week, the bill should be ready for amendments after the Thanksgiving recess.

Photo: White House


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.