Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says “momentum is building” to pass a health care reform bill. Four congressional committees have now approved reform bills, with the Senate Finance Committee likely to become number-five next week. Harkin says all of the bills share several common traits.
“Number one, all would ban insurance company abuses, such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, dropping policy holders who get sick,” Harkin says. “Secondly, all would insure quality health insurance for every American while providing subsidies for those who can’t afford it. Third, something I have strongly championed, all of the bills include a sharp, new emphasis on wellness and prevention.”
A study out Tuesday found health insurance premiums nationwide rose 131% over the past decade, now averaging nearly $1,000 a month for the average family. Harkin calls that an “unsustainable course” and says reform is needed, now.
“I’m very pleased the Finance bill would put wellness and prevention at the heart of America’s health system,” Harkin says. “Among other things, the bill would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for preventative services in Medicare, it would increase Medicaid funding for states that cover preventative services and immunizations for enrollees at no cost, and would provide free tobacco cessation services for pregnant women in Medicaid.”
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which Harkin now chairs, is among the four panels which have already passed health care reform bills. Harkin, a Democrat, says the Republicans have blockaded progress on the measures at every turn. “It was unfortunate that in our committee, even after we adopted 161 amendments of theirs, Republicans ended up voting against our bill in a straight, party line vote.”
While Republicans have every right to oppose the plans, Harkin notes, “Democrats are the majority party in Congress and we have a responsibility to lead.” The newest bill was introduced in the Senate this week by Finance Committee chairman and Montana Democrat Max Baucus, who abandoned plans for a government-run insurance option to compete with private sector insurance. Instead, Baucus calls for the creation of non-profit health care cooperatives.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is among the three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee — and all three opposed the Baucus bill, even though months of work went into their attempt at crafting a bi-partisan measure. Harkin says he still has several questions about the co-ops in Baucus’ bill versus the so-called public option.
Harkin asks: “How do they get started up? Some say we’ve gotta’ put government money into it. Well, how much? No one’s defined that either. And if you have a co-op, how many people have to be in the co-op before it’s viable? If you have one co-op that has five-million people, obviously their insurance rates are going to be much cheaper than a co-op that has 500,000 people.” Harkin predicts a health care reform bill -will- be passed in the upcoming weeks and it’ll be on President Obama’s desk for a signature before Christmas.