Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and the rest of a key senate committee today began public debate of a health care reform bill.
"We all know what the goals are: affordable and high-quality health care; reduced costs for families and government and businesses; and protect peoples’ choice of doctors, hospital and insurance plans," Harkin said in his opening statement.
The complex legislation would boost federal subsidies for health insurance. It would also create new "exchanges" that individuals and small businesses could join to purchase insurance plans. Some key provisions, however, are still being drafted.
Harkin is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee which took up the bill today. For the past six months, Harkin has been the Democrat leading discussion of portions of the bill that address wellness.
"You can jiggle the system all you want — you can figure out how to pay and who to cover and what kind of plans and you can get all that out there — but if we don’t shift the kind of money we’re putting into health care upfront to prevent illness and disease I don’t care what kind of system you come up with, we’re still going down," Harkin said, "because we’ll just be spending more money on patching and fixing and mending, pills and surgery and hospitalization and disability, rather than putting money upfront, keeping people healthy in the first place."
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s other U.S. senator, sits on the Senate Finance Committee — another key panel contemplating health care reform. It appears that committee’s consideration of a reform plan is delayed as Grassley and other behind-the-scenes negotiators seek compromise. Harkin refuses to concede that may delay action on the issue.
"We are going to get it done this year," Harkin said earlier today.
The bill Harkin and the rest of the Senate Health Committee began working on is more than 600 pages long and the panel is scheduled to consider 388 amendments that have been proposed to change the bill.