Two Iowans are heavily involved in the latest developments in the health care reform debate. Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the panel began considering amendments to its original proposal this morning.
"We are expecting to be here late tonight into early tomorrow morning and then resume tomorrow…with the goal of having our work completed before the week is out," Braley says.
The committee’s goal in this second round of debate is to reduce the overall cost of the plan. This morning, the panel began reviewing portions of the bill which deal with Medicare. Braley says an agreement he helped broker last week will accomplish big savings.
"We’ll move the cost curve dramatically by changing the way we pay for Medicare and other related from a fee for services model to a quality based reimbursement model," Braley says. "Everybody who has studied the economics of over-utilitization is unanimous that that is the most important way we can reduce the cost curve and reduce the overall cost of this bill."
Later today or tomorrow, Braley will push for a proposal he believes will reduce the cost of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit.
"I’m offering an amendment…to give Medicare the ability to negotiate lower drug prices from the drug companies which has been a high priority of mine since I ran for congress first in 2006," Braley says.
In 2003, Congress passed a bill creating the new subsidy for the prescriptions seniors buy, but the law forbid Medicare from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices. The top Republican in the senate criticized the proposal today, arguing Democrats are cutting Medicare in order to finance a "massive, new government-run" plan that would be an alternative to private insurance.
While Braley’s committee is debating in public, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and a handful of other members of the Senate Finance Committee continue to meet in private to try to find a deal.
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin sits on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions which passed its own health care reform plan two weeks ago. Harkin predicts the senate will pass its own plan in September, too, then key members of the house and senate will have to come up with a compromise plan.
"Hopefully getting it to the president by the end of October or early November," Harkin says. "…Reforming health care is a tough job. I mean, if it was easy, we’d have done it a long time ago…We can’t let it go on any longer like it is. It’s busting our system. We’re breaking the bank and we’re not keeping people healthy. We’re spending twice as much as Europe on health care, but we’re twice as sick with chronic illness, so we have to make some major changes."
Both Harkin and Braley made their comments this morning during telephone conference calls with Iowa radio reporters.