Tags: healthcare | Reid | Senate

Pass Healthcare Now; Treat Law's Warts Later

Tuesday, 24 Nov 2009 10:06 AM

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The Democrats have pulled off a great victory.

The media often disparage Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when comparing him with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s effectiveness. But he was able to line up 58 Democratic senators, plus Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, so that the first obstacle to the Senate’s taking up the comprehensive health bill was eliminated by a vote of 60-39.

In all probability, final passage in the Senate will be achieved by a similar and probably higher margin.

Next year is an election year, when one-third of the U.S. Senate will be up for re-election. Some, perhaps many, will not want to have to defend voting to deny health coverage to 31 million presently uninsured Americans. I have said from the start of the debate that I will support final passage of whatever comes out of the ultimate conference between the House and the Senate. Future amendments of the legislation can correct sections of the bill with which I and others disagree.

What rankles me more than any other issue involved in this legislation is how President Barack Obama and Congress have sold out to the prescription drug industry, limiting that industry’s share in the new legislation’s cost. The president limited that industry’s share in the new legislation’s cost to an annual payment of a paltry $8 billion, with a total contribution over a 10-year period of only $80 billion.

In return, it appears that the prescription drug industry agreed to support the legislation and pay for pro-legislation television advertising. That agreement, while not publicly discussed, surely included continued drug industry payments to the campaign funds of both Democrats and Republicans.

It is shocking that no member of Congress has made an issue of this sellout of the American public. To make things even worse, President Obama and Congress — with support from both sides of the aisle — agreed to continue the earlier sellout by President George W. Bush prohibiting Medicare from exercising its right to negotiate volume discounts with the prescription drug industry.

For example, negotiating a modest 30 percent discount would save the taxpayers $114 billion a year over a 10-year period, aggregating more than a trillion dollars, instead of the measly $8 billion annually for a 10-year period.

What makes the deal cut with the drug companies even more smarmy is the fact that they are continuing to raise the prices of their drugs, according to Duff Wilson’s Nov. 16 in The New York Times.

“Even as drug makers promise to support Washington’s health care overhaul by shaving $8 billion a year off the nation’s drug costs after the legislation takes effect, the industry has been raising its prices at the fastest rate in years," Wilson wrote.

“In the last year, the industry has raised the wholesale prices of brand-name prescription drugs by about 9 percent, according to industry analysts. That will add more than $10 billion to the nation’s drug bill, which is on track to exceed $300 billion this year. By at least one analysis, it is the highest annual rate of inflation for drug prices since 1992.

“The drug trend is distinctly at odds with the direction of the Consumer Price Index, which has fallen by 1.3 percent in the last year.”

Wilson went on to report: “A Harvard health economist, Joseph P. Newhouse, said he found a similar pattern of unusual price increases after Congress added drug benefits to Medicare a few years ago, giving tens of millions of older Americans federally subsidized drug insurance. Just as the program was taking effect in 2006, the drug industry raised prices by the widest margin in a half-dozen years. ‘They try to maximize their profits,’ Mr. Newhouse said.”

Our country’s large corporations have no shame: They always find a way to cheat the people, often with the cooperation of the people’s government. Years ago the attorneys general entered into what was considered a monumental settlement with the cigarette companies for all of the medical costs the states have borne over the years as a result of cigarette smoking.

Did those attorneys general stop and think that the settlement would not cost the cigarette companies a thin dime since, because those companies simply would raise the price of cigarettes to pay for the settlement, which they did? Where are our elected legislators when we need them? They have become the handmaidens and bondsmen of the very special interests that are ripping off the American public.

A Nov. 15 New York Times editorial listed the areas of the pending comprehensive health legislation that need to be addressed and improved.

One relates to the so-called “Cadillac” coverage insurance plans that employers or beneficiaries pay for privately and would be taxed heavily.

Another is tort reform, which is missing from both the House and Senate bills. Here too the special interests — lawyers — have bought their exemptions by campaign contributions primarily to Democrats. The trial lawyers get their way in both Congress and state legislatures.

From my observation, also missing from the bill is the right to buy private insurance policies across state lines.

About 16 million currently uninsured Americans will not be covered under the new legislation. One-third would be illegal aliens, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Who are the others and why are they not covered? Who will pay their bills when they go to hospital emergency rooms and are unable to pay for the services provided?

Then there are the provisions in both House and Senate bills that bar abortion coverage from federally subsidized insurance plans and require separate insurance contracts. That must be undone.

Despite these and other substantial objections, I support passage of the final bill. As has happened in other countries that have enacted healthcare legislation, the final bill will be improved in years to come, because healthcare will be an issue in every presidential and congressional election.

As for those Republicans who oppose the legislation, I predict that they will come around, if not now, then years from now. In Great Britain, the Tory Party initially fought tooth and nail against comprehensive health insurance. Such insurance is now part of the Conservative Party’s program.

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