December 24, 2009

SPECIAL INTEREST HEALTH CARE

By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

"Never in our memory has so unpopular a bill been on the verge of passing Congress, never has social and economic legislation of this magnitude been forced through on a purely partisan vote, and never has a party exhibited more sheer political willfulness that is reckless even for Washington or had more warning about the consequences of its actions"
-Wall Street Journal editorial, 12-21-2009

Over the last month, the Senate worked long hours and weekends on the Democrats' health care reform legislation. Given the size and scope of this effort, and the fact that it will affect every American and one-sixth of our economy, one might think it reasonable to take all the time necessary to get it right. However, the Senate Leadership and the President would stop at nothing to have a bill completed by Christmas, even in light of many polls that have shown that the vast majority of Americans oppose this legislation. In an effort to reach the 60 votes needed for a series of procedural votes and, ultimately, final passage, the Senate Leadership included a series of "special interest" provisions in the health care reform bill.

Louisiana and Florida each received a bonus from the bill. Louisiana will receive $300 million to cover the extra Medicaid costs that all states will face as a result of this bill. Florida will receive a Medicare Advantage grandfathering clause, which will protect many Floridians from losing benefits that they currently enjoy while the bill cuts benefits for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries in other states. Each of these dubious deals has earned an embarrassing nickname: the "Louisiana Purchase" and "Gator Aid."

When the Majority Leader introduced his 383-page "manager's amendment" to the original health care reform bill, the Senate invoked cloture on a strictly partisan 60-40 vote. There were so many special deals and exemptions for individual states in this amendment that the vote itself received an embarrassing nickname: "Cash for Cloture." The deals included in this amendment include: higher Medicare reimbursements and $100 million for a single hospital in Connecticut; higher Medicare reimbursements and exemptions from insurance fees in Michigan; $10 million for community health care centers and $600 million for Medicaid reimbursements in Vermont; $100 million for Medicaid costs and insurance fee exemptions in Nebraska; $500 million for Medicaid reimbursements in Massachusetts; higher Medicaid payments for "frontier" hospitals in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota; higher Medicare payments for eight medium-sized hospitals in Iowa; and continued Medicare coverage for Libby, Montana.

These special interest deals only add to an already enormous bill. At a time of record deficits, debt and spending, this bill adds to the deficit and the debt and spends even more---two and one-half-trillion dollars more. The bill purports to offset this spending with about $500 billion in cuts to Medicare, $493 billion in tax increases in the next ten years and even greater Medicare cuts and tax increases in the future. If this is truly a good bill, why does the Senate leadership need to add bonuses to convince Senators to support the legislation? The Senate is often called the world's greatest deliberative body, but deal-making is not deliberation. This is not real health care reform, and, as the polls show, this is not the reform that Americans want. America deserves a better bill and a better process. We need to start over with step-by-step reforms that will actually address real, specific issues that will make a difference for all Americans. Please go to http://crapo.senate.gov for more on this important issue.

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