The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) once declared healthcare reform “the cause of my life,” but succumbing to cancer last August just as the battle for reform was becoming noisy and messy, he died long before it was even evident reform could be enacted. So it is both touching and poignant that, after the final House vote late Sunday assured the nation that the legislation would finally become law, Rep. Patrick Kennedy visited the quiet gravesite of his father. On his congressional stationery, the Rhode Island Democrat left a note that read, “Dad, the unfinished business is done.”
But even many Democrats who backed the bill that a triumphant President Obama signed at the White House Tuesday, the business of healthcare reform, in fact, remains unfinished.
Perhaps most notably, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio last week signaled the fight would continue even as he announced that he would reverse his earlier opposition and support the current version of reform.
“I ask for your continued support in our ongoing efforts to bring about meaningful change,” declared Kucinich, who had long fought for a single-payer health system instead. “As this bill passes I will renew my efforts to help those state organizations which are aimed at stirring a single payer movement which eliminates the predatory role of private insurers who make money not providing health care. I have taken a detour through supporting this bill, but I know the destination I will continue to lead, for as long as it takes, whatever it takes to an America where health care will be firmly established as a civil right.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), another ardent supporter of single-payer and inclusion of a public option, suggested that healthcare reform be enhanced over time, just as other major federal programs have been. “Just as we have improved Medicare and Social Security, so too will we strengthen this initial package of reforms,” he says.
Across the Capitol in the Senate, yet another single-payer champion, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, says that while millions of workers, families, seniors, small business owners stand to benefit from lower health care costs, improved coverage and strong consumer protections due to the new law — yet more remains to be done.
“The bill is not as strong as I wanted and I will work to improve it, but it begins to move this country toward the long-time goal of providing comprehensive, affordable health care for all Americans. We can do better, but this is an important step forward,” says Sanders, a left-leaning independent.
In particular, Sanders says that he will continue his fight in the Senate for lower-cost prescription drugs by supporting legislation that will allow importation of drugs and that will require Medicare to negotiate lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries. Provisions to allow drug reimportation, so as to provide less-expensive medication were stripped out of the current law before it received its final vote in the Senate on Christmas Eve.
Another Chance At A Public Option?
Also, Sanders and others who supported a public option to provide healthcare coverage say they have a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to consider adding such a federally run coverage plan later this year.
“I call on my fellow progressives to hold our firm in our insistence on such a vote,” says Conyers. “The health insurance monopolies fear the competition an efficient not-for-profit public health insurance plan would provide and that is exactly why we must have an up or down vote on this proposal.
“I support a public health option because I fundamentally believe in the value of public health insurance,” he adds. “For this reason, I remain an ardent supporter of universal single-payer health care. This system has successfully provided quality, affordable, and cost-effective health care wherever implemented, whether with Medicare, the U.S. military, Europe, Taiwan, or Japan.”
Even as he details the specific benefits the new law will bring his central Florida district, Rep. Alan Grayson says his Medicare You Can Buy Into Act (H.R. 4789) isn’t going away. Grayson says that his proposal would allow anyone who can afford it to buy into Medicare at cost. He says the bill already has 80 cosponsors in the House.
“My new bill will provide real competition to the private health insurance companies,” Grayson says. “Those companies make money by denying people the care they need. My Medicare You Can Buy Into Act will go even further toward saving money and saving lives.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) doesn’t even appear to be in a mood to celebrate as much as other reform supporters. His gaze isn’t on some future improvements — but rather whether the Senate will approve the package of fixes to the current law now under debate in the Senate under rules known as “reconciliation.”
Republicans are working to defeat the reconciliation package, which is impervious to a filibuster because of Senate rules. Reid says that he has the votes, but Weiner isn’t so confident.
“… I’ll wait till the Senate acts before I join the victory dance in the end zone,” he says. “This game is only half-over. We are now relying on the Senate to pass the reconciliation bill or something better, like a public option. Unfortunately, the Senate has been less than reliable.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.