Democrats cede more on health bill, including Medicare buy-in

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, December 14, 2009 20:20 EDT
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Senate Democrats have ceded yet more crucial components of President Obama’s health reforms, dropping proposals for both a public option and Medicare buy-in, apparently caving to push-back from Republicans and centrist Democrats, according to a published report.

“The general consensus was that [...] we shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good and in order to get all the insurance reforms accomplished and a number of other good things in the bill,” Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) told reporters, according to Bloomberg News. Dropping the Medicare expansion “would be necessary to get the 60 votes,” he said.

Asked whether Democrats had truly dropped both provisions, Senator Max Baucus (D-) said, “It’s looking like that’s the case,” according to Reuters.

Democrats had wanted to see Medicare expanded so that people aged 55 and over can buy in to the government-run plan, which currently covers senior citizens aged 65 or older. A public insurance option would have offered competition to high priced private insurers and allowed citizens to purchase low-cost policies through government markets.

“This bill, without public option, without Medicare buy-in, is a giant step forward toward transforming American health care,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). “That’s reality, there is enough good stuff in that bill that we should move ahead with it.”

Senator Harkin had formerly been the public option’s greatest champion.

“Mark my word — I’m the chairman — it’s going to have a strong public option,” Harkin said at an Iowa fundraiser, adding that it would pass “by Christmas.” Harkin replaced Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) as chair of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee.

Even Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) appeared to back away from the key provisions, in spite of his threat to filibuster any bill that does not include a public option.

“”I know how difficult it has been to get this far. My colleagues may have forged a compromise bill that can achieve the 60 votes that will be needed for its passage but until this bill addresses cost, competition and accountability in a meaningful way, it will not win my vote,” he said, according to The Hill.

“I want to tell you, we could pass a health care reform bill this week with more than 60 votes and it would be bipartisan if we just took a few things out of the bill as it is today,” Lieberman told CBS’ Bob Schieffer during a Sunday broadcast.

“Give me the list of things that have to be taken out to pass,” Schieffer prompted.

“From my point of view, no public option,” the senator replied. “No Medicare buy-in. Class act, which will add to our debt in the future, ah, it doesn’t take much more than that. You’d have a great bill left.”

Lieberman’s threat to filibuster the health reform bill if it included a public option or Medicare buy-in sent ripples through the Democratic party, prompting centrist Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) to join him.

It bears pointing out that they are the only two non-Republican members of the upper chamber that have thus far opposed it — with their support, there would be 60 votes in favor of health reform.

With Democrats now agreeing to drop the public option and Medicare buy-in, it would seem Lieberman’s wishes have been granted.

The Senate’s bill is designed to provide insurance coverage to nearly 31 million people and includes a mandate for all Americans to buy health insurance or face a civil penalty. “It would expand the Medicaid health program for the poor, set up online insurance-purchasing exchanges and provide subsidies for those who need help buying policies,” Bloomberg added.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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