18 September 2009

Baucus Bill - Badly Bungled!

On Wednesday, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Finance Committee, brought out the committee's version of national health care reform - an $856 billion, 10-year measure that starts a bumpy journey through the Senate without any Republican support.

"The proposal's strong points are vastly outweighed by its shortcomings," declared Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance For Retired Americans. "For starters, there is no public plan." Many senior advocates agree that the Finance Committee bill's reliance on "health care co-ops" as an alternative to a public option fails to put pressure on private insurers to control health care costs, since there is no history or logic behind the claim that health care co-ops would provide real competition for giant private insurers.

Along with dropping the public health insurance option - which is part of the House bill (H.R. 3200)and the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pension (HELP) committee bill - the Baucus bill also taxes some health plans and individuals who fail to buy private insurance, while providing no penalties to employers who do not provide coverage.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) attacked Sen. Baucus' bill, questioning the chairman's decision to conduct months of bipartisan talks that failed to win a single Republican backer,while shutting out Democrats on the committee. On the positive side for seniors, in order to have their drugs covered under Medicare, manufacturers must provide a 50% discount off the negotiated price for brand-name drugs covered on plan formularies beginning in 2010 when beneficiaries enter the"doughnut hole" coverage gap. Also beginning in 2010, the bill would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for recommended preventive services for Medicare beneficiaries.

Since it has been documented elsewhere that Senator Baucus is a prime recipient of insurance company donations one justifiably wonders if the bill is not a "poison pill" designed to scuttle passage of reform legislation. Now is the time for grassroots pressure for the public option and true reform not another variation of the Medicare Part D process which benefitted insurance companies leaving seniors holding the bag.

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