Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reid Unveils Health Compromise, Wins Support of 60th Senator

Uh oh.

From Fox News:

WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has released a health overhaul compromise that has won the support of the lone Democratic holdout.

The compromise puts new limits on insurance company profits and apparently resolve a standoff over limits on abortion coverage.

Reid, D-Nev., introduced the latest version early Saturday as the Senate pressed for a final vote by Christmas.

Democratic officials say Sen. Ben Nelson intends to support health care legislation backed by President Obama, giving the measure a 60th and decisive vote.

These officials say the conservative Nebraska Democrat will make an announcement later Saturday. Marathon negotiations with the White House and Senate Democratic leaders produced fresh concessions that will mean additional abortion restrictions in the legislation.

The measure would require insurers in the individual market to spend 80 percent of premiums on medical care. The requirement for group policies would be 85 percent.

That would limit overhead and profits. Children could not be denied coverage for health problems.

On abortion, the measure would let states disallow coverage in new insurance exchanges.

Emerging from marathon talks with Reid and White House officials late Friday night, Nelson said "real progress" had been made toward his call for greater restrictions on abortion within the legislation.

Reid "is confident" that his final package of changes in the long-debated legislation on Saturday "will prevail," his spokesman, Jim Manley, said in a late-night statement.

Reid made no comment to reporters, but Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., another participant in the talks, sounded pleased. "I've been in Harry Reid's office for 13 hours and I'm glad to get out of there," he said. "But I'm particularly glad with what has happened in that office."

With Nelson's vote, Obama's Senate allies would have the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster by Republicans.

That gave Nelson enormous leverage as he pressed for concessions that included stronger restrictions on abortions to be covered by insurance policies offered in a newly overhauled health care system. Officials said he was also seeking to ease the impact of a proposed insurance industry tax on nonprofit companies, as well as win more federal funds to cover Nebraska's cost of treating patients in Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor. These officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the administration and Democratic leaders had offered concessions on those points.

The Nebraska Democrat has already rejected one proposed offer on abortions as insufficient, and the presence in the talks of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., indicated additional changes were on the table.

Boxer has a strong record in favor of abortion rights. She told reporters as she left the Capitol at the end of the evening there had been progress made on the issue of separating personal funds, which may be used to pay for abortions, from federal funds, which may not.

The issue is contentious because the legislation provides federal subsidies to help lower and middle-income families afford insurance and the other federal health care programs ban the use of government money to pay for abortions.

The legislation would expand coverage to 30 million people now uninsured and try to curb rising health care costs. Insurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage to people with health problems, or charging them more. All Americans would be required to have health insurance, or eventually face fines. The nearly $1 trillion, 10-year cost would be paid for mainly with Medicare cuts and new taxes on insurance companies and other parts of the health care industry.

The week saw an intraparty brawl among Democrats, with liberals seething over the compromises Reid has already made to keep the bill moving.

Gone is a government insurance plan modeled on Medicare. So is the fallback, the option of allowing aging baby boomers to buy into Medicare. The major benefits of the bill won't start for three or four years, and then they'll be delivered through private insurance companies.

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