Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Medicare expansion dropped from Senate Health Care bill.

The plan to expand medicare to include people between the ages of 55 and 64 has been dropped from the Senate health care reform bill, less than a week after the government-run public option was jettisoned.  Here's the story from the New York Post:

Senate Democrats last night dropped a key Medicare expansion plan from the proposed health-care bill in a major last-minute concession to save the legislation from going under.

The plan would have allowed people as young as 55 to enroll in Medicare.

The decision to scrap the idea -- which would have considerably expanded health-care coverage, a key promise made by Democrats in last year's elections -- came as President Obama put heavy pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats to reach a compromise that they could still call "health-care reform."

The move came after Reid, of Nevada, held an hours-long closed-door meeting with all 60 members of the Democratic caucus and after Obama had called a White House meeting where he could personally lobby the caucus today.

Sen. Max Baucus, (D-Mont.), a key negotiator, and other Democrats told reporters upon leaving last night's meeting that Reid had bailed on the Medicare expansion option.

Asked if Reid explicitly dropped the Medicare plan from the larger health reform bill, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) responded, "That's what it sounded like to me."

The about-face leaves liberals steaming that there will be no government-run program to insure the uninsured, as was widely promised.

But it was a major victory for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who expressed his concern the plan could further jeopardize Medicare, a federal program which already faces staggering financial problems.

"Put me down tonight as encouraged about the direction these talks are going," Lieberman said after Reid caved.

On Sunday, Lieberman said he planned to join Republicans in blocking the Democratic health-care plan if it included the Medicare option.

Reid did not explicitly acknowledge or deny that he had buckled to Lieberman in stripping the Medicare provisions.

"Democrats aren't going to let the American people down," he said. "I'm confident that by next week we will be on our way toward final passage."
Senate majority leader Harry Reid has repeatedly said that he wants to have a vote on a health care reform bill by Christmas.  Michael Tanner at the New York asks and answers the question, "Why the rush?"

In fact Reid promises he'll do "whatever it takes to get this bill past the Senate in December." His chief lieutenant, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who admits that he's "in the dark" about what's in Reid's plan, nevertheless says the proposal "must" pass this year: "We have to do it." President Obama insists that he expects a bill to pass next week.

This is truly extraordinary. The Senate spent four weeks debating the last farm bill and eight weeks debating an energy bill during the last session. But now a 2,000-page bill that will put the government in charge of one-sixth of the US economy (and some of the most important, personal and private decisions in people's lives) must be debated and voted on in just three weeks.


After all, even if the bill passed tomorrow, most of its provisions wouldn't take effect for many years. The exchanges, designed to make it simpler for people to purchase insurance; subsidies; insurance reforms, such as a ban on excluding pre-existing conditions -- none of it would start until 2014. And, for all the agonizing over the government-run public option, no one would be able to sign up for it for the next five years.

There's no policy reason to hurry -- and many reasons to take it just a bit slower. After all, if we get health reform wrong, American businesses, workers, doctors and patients will be paying the price for a very long time.

Perhaps, then, what's really driving this haste isn't policy, but a desire to force a vote before members of Congress go home and face their constituents.

The last time we heard about the need to rush health reform through before some arbitrary deadline was just before the August recess. And when lawmakers did go home for that break, they met a wave of protest and criticism that turned routine town-hall meetings into trials by ordeal. Over Christmas, they can expect the same thing.

The latest polls all say the same thing: CNN shows an overwhelming majority of Americans, 61 percent, oppose the current reform bill, with barely 36 percent supporting it. Rasmussen shows a majority against it, 51-38 (and 40 percent strongly oppose the plan, while just 23 percent are strongly in favor).

Gallup shows 49 percent against, 44 percent for; Ipsos/McClatchey has voters opposed by 46-34. CBS news has it closer -- but with voters still opposed by 45-40.

Not a single major poll shows voters supporting current reform proposals.
The President has summoned the Senate Democrats to the White House this afternoon where he is expected to urge them to come together and get the bill passed.  It should be an interesting week.

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