Congress is launching itself headlong into the issue of reform, with House leaders indicating they are willing to work through the recess to pass a bill by New Year's Day.
Passing a reform bill is close, but it's becoming increasingly clear that it may not be what people hoped for. Outside of ending the insurance industry's discriminatory practices, all kinds of compromises are being made that may not be in the best interest of the people who need this plan. In fact, Nancy Pelosi continues to back away from the public option:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has strongly supported the proposal to create a government-run health insurance option, but she left the door open on Thursday to accepting a health reform compromise from the Senate that does not include a public option.
"We in the House believe that the public option is the best way to hold insurance companies honest — to keep them honest and also to increase competition," Pelosi said at a press conference today, reports CBS News Capitol Hill Producer Evelyn Thomas. "If there is a better way, put it on the table. As soon as we see something in writing from the Senate, we will be able to make a judgment about that."
Senate Democrats are currently considering a set of proposals — including expanding Medicare and creating national, private plans for consumers — in lieu of a public option. Some of the public option's strongest advocates, like former Democratic leader Howard Dean, have said they like the Senate plan. Liberal grassroots groups, however, are adamantly opposed to it.
Pelosi has shifted to promoting the Medicare buy-in:
The speaker stopped short of embracing the broader contours of a fragile compromise worked out by liberal and moderate Senate negotiators in an effort to nudge forward broad changes to the health-care system. Still, she said: "There's certainly a great deal of appeal" to expanding Medicare.
Such an expansion is an old idea among Democrats, but one that was largely absent from this year's congressional health-care debate before it made a Phoenix-like appearance in recent days. The "buy-in," as the idea is known, is intended to help 6.5 million Americans who lack health insurance or purchase expensive policies on their own. They are in an age group in which medical problems become more common and coverage is particularly expensive.
But how many of those people could afford to sign up — and how many would prefer the option over other avenues to insurance that lawmakers are contemplating — hinge on critical details that even the senators embracing the idea have not resolved. The team of senators that proposed the Medicare expansion is declining to disclose the proposal's fine print until congressional budget analysts examine the impact for patients and the federal budget.
Live Pulse has the scoop on some of the initial number crunching - but the prognosis is grim:
PREMIUMS COULD BE HIGH, reports NYT's David Herszenhorn and Robert Pear: "Senate Democrats have provided few details about their latest health care proposal, but this much seems clear: Anyone who wants to buy the same health benefits as members of Congress, or to buy coverage through Medicare, should be prepared to fork over a large chunk of cash. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a family of four earning $54,000 in 2016, when the health legislation is fully in effect, would be eligible for a subsidy of $10,100 to help defray the cost of insurance under the health legislation being debated by the Senate. By then, one of the most popular federal plans, a nationwide Blue Cross and Blue Shield policy, is projected to cost more than $20,000. That could leave the family earning $54,000, slightly more than the current median household income, with monthly premium costs of more than $825. The Democrats' proposal would also allow some people ages 55 to 64 to ‘buy in' to Medicare, starting in 2011. That could cost about $7,600 a year per person or $15,200 for a couple, according to a budget office analysis of an earlier version of the concept. No subsidies would be available until 2014. … Preliminary back-of-the-envelope calculations reflect the steep challenges that Senate Democrats face as they await a new cost analysis of their plan. The numbers also reflect potential pitfalls in the politically appealing message to constituents that they might get benefits similar to those of federal lawmakers."
But the self-proclaimed "defenders of freedom" aren't having it. Adamantly opposed to the push for heath care reform, and insisting this is still a government takeover, they plan to take it to the steps of the Capitol:
A group called the Tea Party Patriots, which is affiliated with the Dick Armey-backed lobbying group FreedomWorks, is calling on supporters to "storm Senate offices" on December 15th in order to "to flex our muscle and exert that influence to hold the line in our fight against the government takeover of healthcare."
"The intention is to go inside the Senate offices and hallways, and play out the role of patients waiting for treatment in government controlled medical facilities," according to a message on the group's Web site. "As the day goes on some of us will pretend to die from our untreated illnesses and collapse on the floor. Many of us plan to stay there until they force us to leave."
They may need to pack some tents extend the camp out. According to recent news coming down the pipeline, the national debt ceiling may have to rise, causing high blood pressure in many a fiscal conservative:
With the national debt projected to soar by nearly $1.4 trillion this year, congressional Democrats are planning a year-end push to dramatically increase the legal debt limit so they don't have to revisit the politically uncomfortable issue before facing voters in November.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she will include legislation to raise the debt ceiling in a must-pass defense spending bill headed to the House floor next week. [...]
Treasury officials have told congressional leaders that they must raise the cap before Dec. 31 or risk running out of money for Social Security checks and veterans' payments due in early January, Democrats said. By law, the Treasury can borrow no more than Congress legally permits.
In light of our current woes, is health care reform going to end up being worth what we are spending?
Pelosi open to recess work on healthcare [UPI]
Pelosi Does Not Rule Out Senate Health Plan [CBS News]
Pelosi backs Medicare buy-in plan in Senate health-care deal [Washington Post]
Live Pulse [Politico]
Tea Party Protesters Plan to "Storm Senate" [CBS News]
Democrats to seek higher limit on the federal debt [Washington Post]