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Health care moves to Senate: Klobuchar, Franken want changes in House bill

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Patrick Leahy and Al Franken
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Sens. Amy Klobuchar, left, and Al Franken, right, say there’s a lot more work to be done on the health care legislation in Congress.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Minnesota’s two Democratic senators signaled their approval Monday of the House-passed health-care reform legislation, but both indicated that they also saw room for improvement as the debate pivots to the Senate.

“It was historic,” said Minnesota’s senior Senator Amy Klobuchar of the bill’s passage late Saturday night. “But, my other reaction was that… it is now on our plate.”

Klobuchar said that she was “pleased” that the House legislation included a government insurance option that would have to negotiate rates with providers —  as opposed another option advocated by liberals in the House, which would have attached the public plan to Medicare rates.

“I think it [a public option attached to Medicare rates] would exacerbate the fact that Medicare [is going] in the red,” said Klobuchar.

Minnesota’s junior Sen. Al Franken, who has been a staunch advocate of a public option, also said that he supported the plan in the House health care bill.

“I hope we [the Senate] can do some version of it, which I think will increase competition for private health insurance companies [and] keep premiums low,” Franken said.

Movement on a bill in the Senate is currently pending a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office and —  more importantly —  the 60 votes that will be necessary to open and close the debate on the floor.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., has said he will not vote for a bill that contains a public option. Meanwhile, Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., stated recently that he would not vote for legislation that does not.

Abortion issue
To complicate matters further for Senate leadership, abortion has risen to the fore as yet another issue threatening to fracture the Democratic Party as it tries to come together to bring a bill to President Obama by the end of the year.

The narrow passage of the House bill hinged on a last-minute abortion provision that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed to offer as an amendment to secure enough Democratic votes.

The measure bars the government-run insurance option and any private insurance plan on the proposed exchange that accepts people using government subsidies from offering abortion coverage.

Proponents of the measure say that it ensures the continuation of a 30-year-ban on federal dollars going to abortions. Opponents, however, argue that it would likely affect people using their own money on the exchange because insurance companies would be incentivized to remove coverage of the procedure from their plans, leading to an unprecedented restriction on access.

The amendment passed by a 240 to 194 vote with 64 Democratic votes, including Minnesota Reps. Collin Peterson and Jim Oberstar.

Some Senate Democrats, like Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, have now said that they would like to see tougher abortion restrictions included in the Senate bill.

The version of the bill that passed out of the Senate Finance Committee bans abortion services from being required as part of a minimum benefits packed in the exchange. It also requires that insurance plans that cover abortions to separate public subsidies from private money 

On Monday, Klobuchar said that she favored the Senate approach to the new House language.

“I prefer the Senate version because we basically were careful that we were not going to restrict that type of coverage — that an individual using their private money would be able to buy [a plan that includes abortion coverage],” said Klobuchar. “I think that was the right way to go. Hopefully we will be able to prevail.”

‘I am not happy’
Franken also said he was displeased by the House approach.

“I am not happy with it,” Franken said. “I mean it basically says that a woman cannot buy a policy on the exchange that covers abortion… even with [her] own money, and I think that that is not right and we will try to change it.”

As negotiations on the bill continue, both Klobuchar and Franken are continuing to push for Medicare payment reforms intended to benefit states like Minnesota that provide high-quality, low-cost care and a reduction of a proposed $40 billion fee on the medical device industry over the next 10 years.

The House bill reduced the fee to $20 billion over the next 10 years.

“We are still working on the numbers here in the Senate, but I think that we are headed in the right direction,” Klobuchar said.

Franken is also pushing measures, which he introduced earlier this year, that would streamline billing, require insurance companies to 90 percent of every premium dollar and actual health services, and end tax breaks for pharmaceutical marketing.

“I think this will save an enormous amount of money,” Franken said, adding that he was also in favor of House bill’s tax on the wealthy.

The House legislation would impose a 5.4 percent tax on individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million.

“Anyone who has been lucky enough to make that kind of money has benefited from living in America and can pay something back,” Franken said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Monday that his goal was to bring the bill to the floor by the week of Nov. 16.

‘The hope is… that the bill would be out before Thanksgiving and then debating and voting before Christmas,” Klobuchar said.

Even if the legislation passes the Senate in December, however, lawmakers will still have to work out differences with the House bill, which could push final passage into next year.

Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 11/10/2009 - 11:01 am.

    It is nice that Amy has finally said a couple of positive words about a public option. By now, though, she has alienated so many that I think a lot of folks are anxious to see her out of Washington, D.C. It looks like she should be in line for a job at big insurance.

    Franken, on the other hand, seems to have real Minnesota heart. I like that guy more and more.

  2. Submitted by david granneman on 11/10/2009 - 12:05 pm.

    the democrates say the republicans are the party of “no” and have no health care plan. the truth is they have a much better plan than the democrates. you can view the plan at the following website.

  3. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/10/2009 - 02:50 pm.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that I actually believe the Republicans’ plan might be an improvement over our current system. That’s because it’s a purely unadulterated bill that has not had to withstand watering down and compromises by going through the legislative process and facing the opposing party, spineless moderates of both parties, and insurance company lobbying. Comparing it to the current bill – a tortured document that is probably still a bit better than our current system – is unfair. An apples-to-apples comparison would be to hold the Republican plan up against the real progressive vision – single-payer – a comparison I think it soundly loses.

  4. Submitted by david granneman on 11/10/2009 - 04:40 pm.

    no where in the history of the world has a socialist government program been able to compete with the power of the free enterprise system. free enterprise produces wealth – socialism spreads the poverty equally. i will bet on the free enterprise system every time.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/10/2009 - 09:17 pm.

    If a ‘socialist government program’ can’t compete with a free enterprise one, why are private insurance companies so scared of a public option?
    If you are correct, no one would chose it.

  6. Submitted by david granneman on 11/11/2009 - 10:23 am.

    hello paul
    if you where the coach of a football team and where ready to play the superbowl. you are told all the refs are favoring the other team. would you want to play this game? in my experience when free enterprise produces a product, such as computers to cell phones, in time the quality gets better and at the time, the price goes down. on the other hand any product government produces, in time, the quality goes down at the same time the costs go up. i think the single payer plan should really be called the other payer plan as the people wanting this plan really want someone OTHER to pay for their health care.

  7. Submitted by Howard Miller on 11/11/2009 - 01:36 pm.

    would it be Constitutional for a law to insist that people receiving public benefits could not use even their own private money to secure family planning insurance coverage? It strikes me that it should not be Constitutional, as it interferes with Constitutional reproductive rights. But I’m not a lawyer.

    Anybody know?

  8. Submitted by david granneman on 11/11/2009 - 01:39 pm.

    if you do not think there will be rationing under a government run health care – I think you should look at the swine flue vaccinations. It seems we have enough vaccine for gitmo terrorists , new york wall street bankers, union and government employees, but it seems the average American will have to wait for their vaccinations. The only government program which is going down in cost while providing better service is the senior drug program which is being run by private drug companies.

  9. Submitted by Howard Miller on 11/11/2009 - 01:47 pm.

    Doesn’t the Republican plan cut costs by cutting benefits?

    If I don’t bother seeking treatment, that will surely save the cost of the treatment. My heirs will appreciate the additional coin they get as a result of that savings

  10. Submitted by Howard Miller on 11/11/2009 - 01:51 pm.

    “no where in the history of the world has a socialist government program been able to compete with the power of the free enterprise system. free enterprise produces wealth – socialism spreads the poverty equally. i will bet on the free enterprise system every time. ”

    Depends on what you mean by compete.

    Sweden, where taxes are enormous and social services very strong, has virtually no child living in poverty. Is that worth anything to a free-market worshipper? The evidence suggests not. So if free enterprise needs to cause greater suffering among children to succeed, maybe it’s success isn’t worth the price.

    And the Swedes don’t miss too many meals or have too many homeless, or have so many functional illiterates as this amazing free enterprise system in the US ….

    So … what matters?

  11. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/11/2009 - 02:46 pm.

    Dave G: I’d say our “socialist government” programs like police and fire protection, the military services and the VA, the interstate highway system, roads and streets and bridges, national, regional and local parks and playgrounds, the postal service, ET CETERA, probably cost half what privatizing services like these would. If your house were on fire, would you really want to call several “fire fighting companies” to see which one had a truck available and would accept your credit card?

    Employees of the private military services we employ in Iraq and elsewhere, for instance, are paid at least twice what our soldiers would be for such services as cooking and laundry and are housed in decent hotels instead of tents.

    To “socialize” something is for all to share in the cost of things that benefit us all and, by sharing in the cost, all save money.

  12. Submitted by david granneman on 11/11/2009 - 02:49 pm.

    hello howard
    like most liberals, when your argument fails then HIDE BEHIND THE CHILDREN.

    “OK, Williams,” you say, “Sweden is the world’s socialist wonder.” Sven R. Larson tells about some of Sweden’s problems in “Lesson from Sweden’s Universal Health System: Tales from the Health-care Crypt,” published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (Spring 2008). Mr. D., a Gothenburg multiple sclerosis patient, was prescribed a new drug.
    His doctor’s request was denied because the drug was 33 percent more expensive than the older medicine. Mr. D. offered to pay for the medicine himself but was prevented from doing so. The bureaucrats said it would set a bad precedent and lead to unequal access to medicine.

    Malmo, with its 280,000 residents, is Sweden’s third-largest city. To see a physician, a patient must go to one of two local clinics before they can see a specialist. The clinics have security guards to keep patients from getting unruly as they wait hours to see a doctor. The guards also prevent new patients from entering the clinic when the waiting room is considered full. Uppsala, a city with 200,000 people, has only one specialist in mammography. Sweden’s National Cancer Foundation reports that in a few years most Swedish women will not have access to mammography.

  13. Submitted by david granneman on 11/11/2009 - 04:00 pm.

    hello Bernice
    could I ask you a couple of questions regarding shared benefits payed for by all.
    If I decide to quit my job and sit home and watch tv all day should I get all my shared benefits?
    If I decide to work extra hours to earn more money should I have to pay more to get my shared benefits.
    should my need for shared benefits determine how may shared benefits i get.

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