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Opinion

Opinion

Dole, Daschle float health care plan

June 19, 2009

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— Fifteen years ago, when Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle was running interference for the Clintons’ effort at health care reform, his goal in life was to enlist Sen. Bob Dole, the hugely influential Republican leader, as a co-sponsor. Daschle never got him, and the enterprise crashed and burned.

When I did a joint interview with the two of them this week, Dole remarked that “we started out working together, and then it fell apart” — the victim of a massive lobbying campaign, a bunch of tactical errors by the president and first lady, and Dole’s presidential ambitions, which moved him into the camp of the Republican naysayers.

Now, 15 years later, Daschle and Dole, along with another former Republican leader, Howard Baker, have come together with a report outlining the provisions of a possible bipartisan health bill — and strong recommendations on how to pass it. (The fourth original member of this Bipartisan Policy Center board, former Democratic leader George Mitchell, dropped out to become President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East.)

In a phone conversation the day before their report was officially released, Daschle and Dole agreed that prospects for enactment of major reform are far better now than in 1994 — and better than they would have been even two years ago. “The situation is far more dire on costs and quality and access to care,” Daschle said. Added Dole: “You have business, labor and a whole cross section of people saying, ‘We have to have reform.’”

But it will still be a heavy lift. Like Obama, they estimate the added cost of insuring the 46 million without health coverage may total $1.2 trillion over 10 years, and say that at least half that will have to come from new revenues — if the Obama goal of budget neutrality is to be met.

To raise it, they would assess large companies that do not offer employees health insurance a fee based on their payrolls — a mandate that Dole acknowledges would be hard for many Republicans to swallow. And they would impose taxes for the first time on the so-called Cadillac policies paid for by employers — a change opposed by many Democrats, by unions and by Obama when it was advocated by John McCain during last year’s election campaign.

But that is only the beginning of the bitter medicine Dole and Daschle are asking their fellow partisans to choke down.

Acknowledging that there is little chance for bipartisanship in the House, Dole urged Senate Republicans to give up any thought of filibustering the health bill. “We need a group of Republicans who will give an early demonstration that bipartisanship is possible,” he said.

Daschle, in turn, said he thinks the Democrats should not attempt to ram a health bill through the Senate by using the budget reconciliation device to pass it with 51 votes, rather than the 60 votes most legislation requires.

Daschle, who would have been Obama’s point man on health reform had his tax returns for recent years not caused him problems, made the point that a reform of this magnitude should not be forced through on a narrow majority. Australia, he said, “passed and repealed health reform several times, before they got a strong enough vote to sustain it.”

It is significant that the Daschle-Dole plan sidesteps the raging controversy over whether there should be a government-sponsored plan to compete with private insurers. Obama and most other Democrats are demanding it; Republicans and conservative Democrats call it a deal-breaker.

Daschle reluctantly agreed that there would be no federal-government plan. Instead, individual states that wanted it could include such a plan on the menu for their residents, with technical help from the feds in setting it up. Five years from now, if a demand for such an option still exists, the president could recommend it — and Congress would have to vote on it.

It was damned hard for Dole and Daschle, neither of whom faces the voters or the lobbyists, to agree. It will be much harder to extract a bipartisan bill from Congress.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

These 3 may well be investors in the health industry. WE know Daschle has plenty of financial ties.

$1.2 trillion in taxes pick up the cost of 60% of those insured. So where does this $1.2 trillion go? All to pay health care bills? Dream on. Americans spend more than anyone else in the world on health care.

Each of 1,500 health insurer adds its bureaucracy, profits, high corporate salaries, advertising, and sales commissions to the actual cost of providing care.

Not only is this money lost to health care, but it pays for a system that often makes it more difficult and complicated to receive the care we’ve already paid for.

Shareholders are the primary clients of for-profit insurance companies, not patients. Who are the shareholders AND those receiving health insurance courtesy of OUR tax dollars? OUR elected officials in Washington D.C.

Report: The Washington Post has revealed almost thirty key lawmakers helping draft landmark healthcare legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has at least $50,000 invested in a healthcare index.

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, a senior member of the health committee, has up to $560,000 worth of stock holdings in major healthcare companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck.

The family of Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman held at least $3.2 million in more than twenty healthcare companies at the end of last year.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee plans to hold a key hearing to discuss healthcare reform.

On that twenty-two-member panel, at least eight senators have financial interests in the healthcare industry.

The investors include Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a senior member of the panel, who holds at least $165,000 in pharmaceutical and medical stocks, and freshman Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who holds at least $180,000 in investments in more than 20 health-care companies.

The hearings will be led by Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, whose wife serves on the boards of four healthcare companies. She received more than $200,000 in salary and stock from her service last year.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/12/AR2009061204075.html

Moreover, households’ actual costs as a percentage of their incomes are far higher today than most imagine. Even families with no health insurance contribute substantially to our health care system through taxes.

Recognizing these hidden costs that U.S. households pay for health care today makes it far easier to see how a universal single-payer system—with all of its obvious advantages—can cost most Americans less than the one we have today.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

Paying More, Getting Less How much is the sick U.S. health care system costing you?

The U.S. health care system is typically characterized as a largely private-sector system, so it may come as a surprise that more than 60% of the $2 trillion annual U.S. health care bill is paid through taxes which comes to $1.2 trillion. $1.2 trillion is a sweet gravy train for the insurance industry. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2008/0508harrison.html

That same $1.2 trillion can cover all americans. Now this is the real surprise. So the government is not using our tax dollars effiiciently which is to say WE need OUR tax dollars applied in a true fiscally responsible manner.

So where does this $1.2 trillion go? All to pay health care bills? Dream on. Americans spend more than anyone else in the world on health care.

The previous above comment reveals corruption in this process from both sides of the aisle.

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 6 months ago

Of course, the goal of many in power is not to merely cover the uninsured but to actually replace today's healthcare choice with a costly and dangerous socialized medicine scheme.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

The U.S. health care system is typically characterized as a largely private-sector system, so it may come as a surprise that more than 60% of the $2 trillion annual U.S. health care bill is paid through taxes which comes to $1.2 trillion. $1.2 trillion is a sweet gravy train for the insurance industry.

That same $1.2 trillion can cover all americans. Now this is the real surprise. So the government is not using our tax dollars effiiciently which is to say WE need OUR tax dollars applied in a true fiscally responsible manner.

18,000 people die due to lack of resources for health insurance thus health care. Now that is dangerous.

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