Monday, November 24, 2003


According to an analysis by the Democratic staff of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, says the LA Times, many seniors would fare worse under the Medicare legislation now before the Senate than they do now.

Over 2.6 million could lose their employer-based retiree health benefits under the plan, while nearly 6.3 million would pay more for drugs and just under 1.6 million would pay higher premiums for Medicare Part B coverage based on their income. (The Times article includes a state-by-state listing.)

The New Republic calls the bill "the second biggest scam in Washington," noting that final language of the 600-page bill wasn't issued until this past Thursday but the Republican leadership pushed for a vote immediately. I suspect they were hoping no one would have time to notice what crap it is and the GOP could crow to seniors "we're the ones who got you a prescription drug benefit!"

Even so, they had to resort to some slimy tricks to get it past a reluctant House. Normally, once a bill is called for a vote, members have 15 minutes to record their vote. At that time, the bill was going down to defeat 216-218 at the hands of an unusual coalition of liberals objecting to the impact on seniors and the attempt to push people into private insurance joined with conservatives up in arms about giving a prescription benefit at all.

But the Republican leaders, sweating blood to do the bidding of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, refused to close the vote. Instead, they coaxed, lobbied, cajoled, and threatened for three hours in the longest roll call vote in House history until they got a few wavering souls to switch their "nay" to "aye." The total was now 215-210 in favor of passage and WHAM! voting closed.

The bill's prospects in the Senate aren't clear but as of this writing the predictions I've seen are it will pass. Majority Leader Bill Frist is calling for a vote on Monday and it appears he'll get the 60 votes he needs to close off debate. Which will be a tragedy.

Truth in Politics Dept.: House Speaker Dennis Hastert, asked specifically whether the bill would guarantee lower costs for seniors a decade from now, refused to commit. "I'm guaranteeing that this is a chance to change health care, to give people more options, to be able to give them a choice," he said.

True. A Hobson's choice. Or, perhaps more exactly, the choice to be worse off than they are now, or to be even worse off than that.

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