The Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog

Health Care Reform From One Person's Perspective

Kennedy Health Care Reform Bill Launches New Phase of Debate

Posted by Alan on June 9, 2009

The health care reform debate moved to a new phase Senator Edward Kennedy and his fellow Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) introduced sweeping legislation. Senator Kennedy is Chair of the ccommittee. What is significant is not what is in the bill — it’s general outline has been known for awhile — but the publication of the bill itself. It marks the beginning of the move from discussions on generalities to negotiations on specifics.

The HELP Committee Legislation is entitled the “Affordable  Health Choices Act.” (Virtually every piece of health care reform legislation will include the word “choice” as the lack of choice — see as evidence The Patients’ Choice Act four Republican lawmakers are planning to introduce. The reason is that many in Washington believe opponents framing of the Clinton Administration’s health care reform plan as limiting choice was a leading contributor to it’s downfall.) The HELP Committee press release proclaims the legislation “reduces health care costs, allows Americans to keep the coverage they have if they want it, and makes health insurance affordable to those who do not have it today.”

That remains to be seen. The 615 page draft health care reform bill covers a lot of territory and it will take some time to sort through its many provisions. A quick skim, however, indicates that it generally hews to the outlines Senator Kennedy has been talking about in recent days. It would create state gateways through which individuals and some businesses could purchase coverage and a government-run carrier would compete with private carriers  Individuals earning up to 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level ($16,245 for an individual in 2009) will be eligible for Medicaid. Insurance premiums for those earning up to 500 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $110,250 for a family of four) so their payments do not exceed 10 percent of their gross adjusted income.

At this stage, the details actually are not all that important. Discussions among the HELP Committee’s Democrats and Republicans continue (now those would be interesting to watch). And several other bills by different committees in both the House and the Senate are due. All will wind up in the sausage making process. What any one draft contains is not necessarily what will emerge at the end.

For now, Senator Kennedy is anchoring the left in the debate. (Anchoring a position is done by both liberals and conservatives. It is a negotiating tool in which the anchor calls for extreme provisions in the hopes of having any compromise which emerges from moving too far toward the other side). I don’t mean this cynically. Senator Kennedy is no doubt sincere in supporting the provisions of his committee’s legislation. However, he is a practical policitian and knows compromise is inevitable. Being the first Congressional committee to issue a draft, there is no need for him to introduce a watered down bill. After all, he would be foolish to negotiate with himself. Better to stake out his ideal position and see what the other committees produce.

A public hearing on the HELP Committee bill is scheduled for June 11, 2009 and the committee will begin editing the bill at a June 16, 2009 meeting. The Democrat’s press release emphasized that negotiations with GOP members of the committee are ongoing so it will be interesting to see what changes emerge  once mark-up begins.

All this is important and interesting. But again, the details of the Affordable Health Choices Act are less important than the existence of the Affordable Health Choices Act. A new phase of the journey toward comprehensive health care reform has begun. The debate continues.


5 Responses to “Kennedy Health Care Reform Bill Launches New Phase of Debate”

  1. William said

    Stop drinking the kool-aid out there. The only solution is to take on the big money interests in this country.

    They have worked against a better health care system in this country since the days of Truman because they are rippin you off left and right.

    They have posioned your mind with catch-phrases like socialism and government-run programs. Truth is, true free-market capitalism does not exist in the United States and has not since the early days of the republic.

    Every industry is subsidized by the government in one way or another – so get over it.

  2. William said

    Let’s be relaistic here. The Republicans are not going to support any solution that the Democrats propose. The Democrats have 59 votes and should be able to muster a majority. A republican filibuster over health care is not going to happen! Forget it! Who in the Republican party can do anything but dig a deepr hole for them. Mc Cain couldn’t? Lindsey Graham with his bureaucrat speech? The brain dead DeMint? Forget the compromise and get it done and lets get on with life.

    The insurance companies fear the public option because they fear competition! While they like to claim they are engaged in free enterprise, guess what? They do not compete because they have a cozy little antitrust exemption that allows them toi fix prices! This is not availble to other businesses and industries in America. So, it i stim efor the Insurance companies to put up or shut up. If they don’t wnat a public option to compete with them, then they should be arguing that competition is good and be suggesting that the McCarran Ferguson Act that allows them to fix prices together be repealed.


    The “shocking costs” of 1 trillion over 10 years should not shock anyone. any Senator suggesting this is too expensive is LYING to The Public. Remember the bailouts! The Congress gave AIG – an Insurance Company – 200 BILLION DOLLARS in a period of THREE MONTHS! The Iraq War has cost well over a trillion dollars in five years. Who has benefited from the War on Iraq other than Islamic extremeist, defense contractors, Haliburton and other Bush lackeys?

    Any democrat on the fence in this one needs to be tossed out of the party if they do not stand with their Democratic President! Those wacky Senators need to re-read JFK’s “Profiles in Courage.” Forget any compromise with the republican bott lickers and go to war for the citizens who elected you rather than the few fat cat insurers that pay for the campaigns and parties and junkets!

  3. omathew said

    The left and right are positioning themselves for the ultimate fight. How much compromise they are willing to undertake is yest to be seen. It will be interesting.

  4. Dave Wood said

    Does anybody really believe Obama won’t get his national Massachusettes type plan passed? He has 59 Democrats and 3 moderate Republican Senators.

    The nations so called health care system is a shambles where we pay DOUBLE per capita what Europeans pay, and we don’t cover everyone. Most Americans want some change.

    Obama is turning out to be a very cautious, even cowardly politician in my opinion.( I did vote for him and give him $ ) And his prescription is not that radical. Give Americans an exchange where a menu of private plans is offered. People can take their insurance from job to job, and cannot be denied coverage EVER, and Obama will subsidize private insurance for poorer folks.

    This insures that providers are on board since their revenues will go up, and the insurers love Obama care since their revenues will go up. Problem is the nation is BROKE. TRY 1.8 TRILLION bucks broke in 2009 ALONE.

    The great debate is about this new government option plan. I believe it has no chance of passing.

    My prediction is Obama will get his plan without the govt. option, and the cost of Obama care will soar as people get insured and will be free to see the Doctor whenever they want. Obama will fail to reign in costs, or at best may slow down growth from 8% to perhaps 6%, or at least until the fat and happy baby boomers reach Medicare age. Then costs for the Govt. will soar again.

  5. The strategy to negotiate from the far left toward the middle works when you have a clear vision that defines the middle. The healthcare proposals in the Kennedy bill are so far left that there is not a middle position to logically negotiate toward. I believe this bill will move forward in name only.

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