Thursday, December 24, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree...

The Senate has approved comprehensive health system reform legislation by a strict party-line vote of 60-39 during a Christmas Eve session. Unfortunately the bill seems to be a Christmas tree loaded with pork that also does little to reign in costs and seems to make insurance companies very happy (with passage of the bill, their stocks are surging). There are some good things in the bill and some not so good things, but a troubling aspect for me is that in order to get this huge piece of legislation passed, there have been lots of earmarks and pork tucked between the branches.

Some of the ornaments on the Senate's health reform tree:

  • Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) placed a shiny $100 million ornament to build a university-affiliated hospital which he is trying to get for the University of Connecticut.
  • Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) contradicted his earlier claim that his vote is “not for sale.” He got three huge ornaments for his state to hang on the Senate bill tree: $100 million in extra Medicaid funds; exempting some physician-owned hospitals from new restrictions; and also an annual fee exemption for some Nebraska-based insurance companies.
  • Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) had originally threatened to oppose the bill without a strong public insurance option. So he was able to get $10 billion for community health centers hanging on the tree. Vermont also was able to gain extra federal Medicaid funding.
  • Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Finance Committee chairman, as The New York Times has pointed out has always wanted federal funding surrounding an asbestos mine in Libby, Montana. Merry Christmas Senator! You got this in the bill, including a provision to expand Medicare coverage to victims living near the mine.
  • Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) had expressed concern about proposed cuts to the Medicare Advantage program. This makes sense, since he can scarcely afford to offend the many seniors whose votes he needs. Well, merry Christmas Senator: three counties in south Florida are now exempt from these cuts.
  • And the fattest Christmas ball weighing down these branches is for Mary Landrieu (D-La.) which some of branded the "Louisiana Purchase" — an estimated $300 million in extra federal spending for her state is included in the bill.

Maybe I'm too idealistic... I am in favor of healthcare reform and this bill does do some good things. Unfortunately, it appears to be business as usual in Washington, D.C. and this bill is a disappointment to those of us who have hoped to see earmarks and pork barrel spending a thing of the past.