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How Insane Could This Get?

At long last, the Senate is poised to begin voting today on a measure to repeal and/or alter portions of the Affordable Care Act.

Much remains in flux regarding process and the substance of what will be voted on.   According to multiple media sources today, Senate leaders latest strategy is to hold a vote on a narrower piece of legislation than those circulated in recent weeks.

The substance of such a measure—if indeed, it exists and is submitted for a vote—is unclear as of this posting.  But it reportedly could contain just a repeal of the ACA’s individual and employer mandates and a few of the law’s taxes, such as the one on medical device companies.

This narrow, or “skinny,” bill would not have any provisions pertaining to Medicaid.

The idea, apparently, is to pass this initial piece of the puzzle—to get things going—and then to take up the larger and more controversial issues that have so deeply divided the Republican caucus.Continue reading…

Senate Releases Obamacare Replacement Bill (Download)

With action expected on the legislation next week, the Senate released the full text of its proposed Obamacare replacement.

Surprise, surprise: after weeks of secret meetings and dramatic late night tweets, the legislation looks very similar to the House Bill. More soon.

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Mixing Politics and Science Is Injurious to Public Health

If Obama’s nominee for the position of Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, is not endorsed by the Senate because Senate Democrats from conservative states are too scared to vote for him for fear of losing votes from a population, egged on by the National Rifle Association (NRA), that passionately supports firearms, the first words that come to mind are ‘unfortunate,’ ‘tragic’ and ‘daft,’ although not in that particular order.

Words that do not come to mind are ‘surprising’ or ‘unprecedented.’  This is the natural result of decades of actively encouraging science to mix with politics.

In an ideal world, or I should say reasonable world, noting that perfection is not a pre-requisite to being reasonable, it would scant matter what Murthy thought about firearms.

He would be judged on his (impeccable) credentials, (unmistakable) leadership, and (imaginative) entrepreneurship not to mention his gumption in standing up for what he believes.

It would, of course, be utterly naïve to believe that in the real world his politics do not matter.

I doubt Murthy would have advanced so precociously, let alone been nominated for the position of Surgeon General, if he were a second amendment absolutist, an implacable limited government advocate or had written extensively about the role of free market in healthcare, all things else being equal.

We applaud him for standing up for his convictions not just because of his standing up but for the nature of his convictions.

This is not to suggest that Murthy’s worldview is expedient. There’s no reason to doubt its sincerity. It’s to suggest that a certain weltanschauung is incompatible with progress in academia and beyond.

That’s because despite living in an age of unprecedented reason we have been unable to render unto science what is unto science and render unto politics what is unto politics, a distinction our species has made little progress in making in the last two thousand years.

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The Fall of Berwick?

When President Obama named Dr. Donald Berwick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) last March, I wrote this:

“Most who know Berwick describe him a ‘visionary’ and a ‘healer,’ a man able to survey the fragments of a broken health care system and imagine how they could be made whole.  He’s a revolutionary, but he doesn’t rattle cages. He’s not arrogant, and he’s not advocating a government takeover of U.S. health care.”

To understand what I meant, view these clips from the film, Money-Driven Medicine, where Berwick speaks about the need for healthcare reform. Soft-spoken and charismatic, Berwick is as passionate as he is original. His style is colloquial, intimate, and ultimately absolutely riveting. He draws you into his vision, moving your mind from where it was to where it could be.

And now, it appears that we are going to lose him. Thursday, 42 Senators delivered a letter to President Obama demanding that he withdraw his support for Berwick to head CMS. The Boston pediatrician and co-founder of the Institute for Health Care Improvement (IHI) had received a temporary appointment in July while Congress was on vacation. President Obama re-nominated him in January. But Berwick still needs to be confirmed by the Senate, or he will have to leave his post at the end of this year.

With 42 out of 100 Senators firmly opposed to him, it appears that Berwick’s supporters won’t be able to muster the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate floor. Reportedly, Senate liberals already have given up. According to Politico.com’s Brett Coughlin: “At a meeting with Senate staffers Friday, health care lobbyists and advocates were told that there will be no confirmation hearing and that they’ll soon be discussing ‘next steps’ for CMS.”    If this is true, Berwick is now a lame-duck CMS director without power—as of today.Continue reading…

The Filibuster, Supermajority and the Constitution

Ezra Klein has published an engaging series of interviews regarding the filibuster, and the prospects and shape of reform for the Senate’s much maligned rule of procedure. The prospects for reform don’t look particularly bright. And as we come to reckon with one of the final products of the filibuster floor, the Senate’s health reform bill, we may want to take a moment to consider the filibuster itself– this need for 60 votes.

Klein writes:

According to UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair, about 8 percent of major bills faced a filibuster in the 1960s. This decade, that jumped to 70 percent. The problem with the minority party continually making the majority party fail, of course, is that it means neither party can ever successfully govern the country.

It should also be noted that unlike today, a filibuster in the early 60’s required the arduous (and, it would seem, daunting physical task of continued speech and an inability to consider other legislation during the pendency of the filibuster. A set of circumstances which at times brought sleeping cots onto the Senate floor and may have served to limit the filibuster’s use.

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Senate passes bill, more to come

It’s Christmas Eve and the Senate just passed a major health reform bill. Personally I think the reforms in it are relatively minor, but the passage of the bill itself is a screaming big deal. When I say minor, what I mean is that we’re leaving in place the inefficient employment-based health benefits system, and we’re expanding insurance mostly by putting more people into the separate but equal Medicaid program.

But this bill is a statement, and an important one.

For the first time we’re acknowledging that everyone ought to have health insurance and that those unable to afford it should be subsidized by the government. We’re also saying that insurance companies should take all comers at a consistent price without respect to health condition (and hopefully we’re implying that their job is to manage care not risk-select). Finally we’re saying that the majority of the cost can be paid for by redirecting inefficient spending within the health care system, and by taxing benefits that are only tax-free because of historical accident.

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How Will the Senate Bill Impact the Insurance Companies and Their Customers?

How will the Senate bill impact health insurance companies and their customers?

Even better, how will it impact a not-for-profit health plan–one with a reputation for being a “good guy” that continually wins the country’s top awards for member services and with historic profits of less than 1% of premium? And, one that is operating in Massachusetts–a market that has already been through much of this?

I will suggest that, in combination, these are three intriguing questions.

That is why I thought that the Harvard Pilgrim’s CEO’s recent post on their website was important. It is short, direct, and to the point. And, from everything I know, it is bang-on.

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Coal in Your Christmas Stocking?

Is there anyone left, on either side of the political spectrum, who wants the Senate health care bill to pass?

Republican Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour had this to say about the Senate bill last week, “This health care plan is like mackerel in the moonlight. Longer that it's out there, the more that it stinks.”

And yesterday, MoveOn said this about the Senate Democratic health care bill in an email to its members, "America needs real health care reform—not a massive giveaway to the insurance companies. Senator Bernie Sanders and other progressives should block this bill until it's fixed."

When Haley Barbour and MoveOn are saying about the same things—this bill should be stopped in its current form albeit for very different reasons—that says a lot.

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Senate Deal on Health Care Bill Done

As it's a work day for the Senate worth reporting here that Ben Nelson’s vote has been bought for more Medicaid spending for Nebraska and a complex formula for States to opt out of exchanges being able to fund abortions. So presuming there’s no problems in reconciliation we can expect the reform bill to be done relatively soon. Full details on what’s in the new bill on Think Progress’ The Wonk Room.

The netroots left has been complaining loudly over the last couple of days since Lieberman was bought off by dropping the public option and the Medicare buy-in. Howard Dean and Markos of Daily Kos both called for massive changes to the bill, or killing it and the debate between the “sensible left” and the “this is a sellout to insurers” has got a little silly. However, (unless Bernie Sanders pulls  fast one) none of the more left wing Senators (Sherrod Brown et al) are going to vote against the bill, so what we see now is what we get.

The real issue will be when the voting public finds out that nothing happens for 3 years.

Senate Compromise on Health Care Reform: Political Genius?

Joe Flower PrefferedDemocrat Roland Burris, the sudden senator who replaced Barack Obama in that august body, has now joined those who are pledging to filibuster any bill that does not have a “public option” – joining of course those, like Connecticut’s infigurable Joe Lieberman who will filibuster if it does have a “public option.” But the compromise that is brewing may turn all such pledges inside out. The compromise would allow 55 to 65-year-olds to buy into Medicare, while letting under-55s without insurance into the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, along with mandates to buy in, and subsidies for those who can’t afford it. If this does indeed emerge, liberal Democrats in both houses may have some trouble defining what they mean by the “public option” they are so strongly demangin. Is it a “public option” for 55-and-overs if they can buy into Medicare? Sure sounds like it – a government-run plan that people can buy into, in competition with private plans. Is it a “public option” if the federal Office of Personnel Management runs an exchange called the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) setting the rules and transparency for private plans, with subsidies and tax credits for those 54 and under who can’t afford a health plan?Sounds close, but not quite. Close enough for confusion, at least.

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