Friday, September 7, 2007

The Senate Still Has a Hard Time Telling Insurers “No”

The differences between Senate and House members trying to negotiate a compromise in their legislation to reauthorize and improve access to healthcare for children, SCHIP, remain. That, in our opinion, is a good thing. Not because we like gridlock but because this legislation is too important to seniors and children alike to take the easy way...which is to ignore the difficult issues tackled in the House bill but absent in the Senate version.

The House bill, called CHAMP, includes desperately needed reforms to private Medicare Advantage plans and is by far the better piece of legislation. Money currently being used to overpay insurers would go to improve health insurance access to children. More than a fair trade. Thankfully, House leaders are sticking to their far. Congress Daily describes yesterday’s closed door meeting this way:

"Senate Majority Leader Reid, House Majority Leader Hoyer, Senate Finance Chairman Baucus, and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Dingell attended the meeting in House Speaker Pelosi's office to discuss how to approach a conference report that would merge the bills. They made no decisions. 'We've got to find out how close are we. We know how far apart we are just without talking,' Rangel said. 'They cannot make commitments on their side, and we damn sure can't on ours, to say that we're compromising when we don't even know where we are.' From Rangel's perspective, ripping apart the House package might threaten its majority support. 'We put the baby together, and we made the baby with [Energy and] Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means committee, our caucuses, liberals, Democrats, pro-tax, anti-tax, cigarette people. We put this child together. And to split the child in half is very, very difficult to sell it to the parents,' he said."

While every major seniors and health advocacy organization (including the AMA and AARP) supports cutting millions in outrageous overpayments to private MA insurance companies and using that savings to improve insurance access for can see just how much influence the insurance lobby still has on Capitol Hill...

“Before the meeting, Baucus said it would be very difficult to get the needed 60 votes for a conference report in the Senate if any Medicare provisions are added. Several Republican supporters of the Senate bill say they will not tolerate cuts to private Medicare Advantage programs that are part of the House bill.” Congress Daily AM, Sept 7, 2007

So in short, some in the Senate just "won’t tolerate" cuts to private plans which pay private insurers about $1,000 more than Medicare receives for the same beneficiary. They "won’t tolerate" cutting industry subsidies which will cost taxpayers $149 billion dollars over the next decade and cuts two years from Medicare’s solvency. And let’s not forget the extra $24 a year every Medicare beneficiary is paying to cover these subsidies...whether they’re in a private plan or not.

Clearly, the insurance industry does not want to lose the MA gravy train and it's lobbying hard to protect the sweetheart deal it wrote and passed through Congress in the 2002 Medicare Privatization...oops, we mean Modernization...Act.

That’s why we say in this instance...differences are a good thing. And we urge Senate to find the same courage their colleagues showed in the House and support SCHIP legislation that considers what’s best for children and seniors alike.

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