Universal Healthcare Is Crucial

Tuesday, 16 Feb 2010 12:11 PM

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President Obama’s comprehensive healthcare plan is still on the legislative table. It lies there, like an eviscerated chicken waiting to be prepared for public consumption. What is now required is final passage in both Houses of an agreed-upon conference bill or acceptance by the House of Representatives of the Senate’s bill, to be sent on to the president for his signature.

I still believe the proposed legislation should be passed, even though it does not go far enough. I believe the concept of universal healthcare is so important and difficult to come by that when we are so close to having it, we should not let the opportunity slip away. I expect that once passed, the legislation will be analyzed for effectiveness and then improved.

The Democrats can respond to the Republican filibuster threat by going to the mat and fighting the Republicans, requiring they actually engage in the filibuster until they are weary, or alternatively, using the “nuclear option” and declaring the filibuster unconstitutional. They can do that by a simple majority of 51 votes — they have 59 votes. They can then pass the legislation with a simple majority instead of the supermajority needed to end a filibuster under current rules.

The president and the Democratic congressional leaders must come to a decision and not allow this matter to drag on. They are in charge and will be praised for leadership which the country desperately wants and needs or be damned in the November election for their failure to produce reform.

If they try to break the filibuster with the “nuclear option,” they should exercise their majorities in conference to reform the bill and make it far better than it is today. The one glaring provision requiring removal is the section of the Senate bill prohibiting Medicare to negotiate volume discounts while purchasing drugs.

The president entered into a pact with the top lobbyist of the pharmaceutical industry, former congressman Billy Tauzin from Louisiana. In exchange for that industry’s support of the Democratic legislation, the president agreed to limit the industry’s share of the cost of that legislation. The New York Times of Feb. 13 described it as:

“A pact to trade the drug industry’s political support for favorable terms under President Obama’s proposed healthcare overhaul.”

That agreement was far too generous to the drug industry. Instead of allowing for volume discounts, the president limited the industry’s cost to a total sum of 80 billion dollars over 10 years. A 30 percent discount would yield more than a trillion dollars in savings over 10 years. Canadians receive many of the same drugs from the same companies at a 50 percent discount.

The president thought he was buying an ally, thereby preventing a repeat of 1994, when the drug industry helped defeat the Clinton healthcare legislation. However, as a result of the surprise resignation of Tauzin, the president is now off the hook and able to withdraw from his bad deal.

According to The Times, “Mr. Tauzin is leaving his $2 million-a-year job as the top lobbyist for the drug industry amid complaints from drug makers that he bargained away their profits too cheaply, spent too much in his $150 million advertising campaign to sell the overhaul and miscalculated in his assessment that the passage of the legislation was all but inevitable.”

Imagine, he saved the drug industry about a trillion dollars and for them it was not enough. I believe they underpaid him for his ability to perpetrate this horror. The voracious appetite of the drug industry calls to mind Shakespeare’s comment mouthed by Cassius in Julius Caesar, “Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed.”

The president has been given an opportunity to right a wrong that he supported. It is not often that such an opportunity presents itself. Hopefully, he will use it.


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