Congressional Recess: Senators Talk Health Reform With Voters, Staffs Toil On Bills
Three Republican senators took their case against Democrats' health reform to a Texas Medical Center gathering Tuesday, warning that a government insurance option is a "gateway to a single-payer system," The Houston Chronicle reports.
Sens. John Cornyn, Texas, John McCain, Ariz. and Mitch McConnell, Ky. met at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. "'This is where the government option is a competitor but the government's not exactly a fair competitor,' said Cornyn, of Texas, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is considering health care reform proposals."
"Prominent Houston health officials did give senators an earful about all that they felt was wrong with the current system, from the financial impact of illegal immigrant patients to insurance company greed to a doctor's limits if the individual doesn't take responsibility for his or her health. 'The status quo is not an option,' Dr. Kenneth Mattox, chief of staff at Ben Taub General Hospital, told the senators."
"McCain touted as an alternative to Obama's plan his 2008 presidential campaign platform to give every family in America a $5,000 refundable tax credit, which they could take anyplace to select the policy they want" (Ackerman, 7/1).
In the meantime, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is readying a draft portion of its bill that calls for a public plan, The Associated Press reports: "The public plan would be offered alongside private coverage through new insurance purchasing pools called exchanges. The government option would have to follow the same consumer protection rules as private plans it competes with."
The plan splits from a House version in that it would not use Medicare payment rates to reimburse doctors for care but use an average of what private insurers pay. A Senate Finance Committee plan may include a co-op option with plans not controlled by the government (Alonso-Zaldivar, 6/30).
Bloomberg reports: "The summary of the [HELP] committee's proposal says a public plan would be part of a computer 'gateway' where consumers can compare different plans, including private offerings. All participating plans would follow the same rules for defining benefits, protecting consumers and setting premiums 'that are fair and based on local costs,' the plan says. The government would pay the first three months of claims, which would be considered a loan to be repaid over time. If necessary the plan may qualify for 'risk corridor protections' to offset or reclaim excessive losses" (Gaouette, 7/1).
The co-op option may appear in the Finance Committee's final bill, but this is not their debut, NPR reports: "Health co-ops are not a new idea. Two large ones, Group Health in Seattle and HealthPartners in Minneapolis, are more than 50 years old. But the thought that co-ops could win enough support to keep health overhaul plans rolling along has only just come up. The co-op idea is being pressed by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). 'I believe they're a good idea because they can provide competition to for-profit insurance companies, and one of the things we need in the system is more competition,' he says" (Silberner, 6/30).
The difference between this time and the 1993 try at reform under Clinton is the dynamic among lawmakers on key committees, The Wall Street Journal reports: "None of the committees has approved the legislation yet, but none is seen as a dead end for the legislation either. By contrast, a fractured process in the House during the Clinton era stalled momentum and played a key role in eventually derailing the bill. Supporters of the Clinton plan on the powerful Energy and Commerce panel, their ranks reduced by the defection of conservative Democrats, failed to approve a bill by one vote" (Yoest, 6/30).