June 1, 2009

Kennedy Expected To Outline Healthcare Reform Bill

Long-standing democratic plans for restructuring the U.S. healthcare system have begun gathering momentum.

Senator Edward Kennedy is expected to announce a proposal soon that could form the basis for a new health system.

Key elements of Senator Kennedy's proposal are expected to be a new government program designed to provide medical coverage as well as a mandate that every American carry some kind of health insurance coverage.

Both of these elements have sparked fierce debate in Congress and amongst the public, as Obama seeks to begin reform of the $2.5 trillion a year U.S. healthcare system by the end of 2009.

Kennedy, who has been pushing for some form of universal healthcare coverage for over 40 years, offered a rough outline of his bill in the Boston Globe this week.

The elderly senator stated that the legislation would offer a "gateway" for the uninsured to get coverage and stated that a government-subsidized plan would be one of the options.

"We'll negotiate with insurance companies to keep premiums and copays low and help you with your premiums if you can't afford them," explained Kennedy in the column.

"We're also hearing that some Americans want the choice of enrolling in a health insurance program backed by the government for the public good, not private profit"”so that option will be available too," he added.

Kennedy offered few specifics on the design of the proposed project, but any plan instituting government competition with private insurance companies is sure to fuel even greater opposition to the overhaul.

Though Kennedy has largely disappeared from the public spotlight since being diagnosed with brain cancer last year, Washington insiders say he has been busily working behind the scenes and represents one of the most powerful voices in the ongoing healthcare debate.

"He's got extraordinary experience and is respected by his colleagues and he is intent on making healthcare reform the crowning achievement of more than four decades in the Senate," said Richard Kirsch of the advocacy group Health Care for America Now.

Ron Pollack, executive director of the healthcare reform advocacy organization Families USA, said that Kennedy will "play an enormously effective role" in pushing for a final version of the bill that will be as close to his intended version as "practical politics allows."

Kennedy is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, one of the two Senate panels that will be directly involved in drafting the legislation.

Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is spearheading an effort to craft another version of the bill"”one that he hopes will be supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

Though it remains to be seen how the two versions of the legislation will balance out, leaders from both committees have ensured the President that they would draft bills that complement each other.

A spokesman for Kennedy has said that his committee members will meet this week to discuss the proposal behind closed doors, though it is unclear whether or not the ailing Kennedy will himself be leading those discussions.

Individuals from both sides of the debate will be watching closely for clues on the exact structure of Kennedy's intended plans.

Both Republicans politicians and insurance firms alike are already contending that government competition in the healthcare market would drive out private insurers and eventually lead to a government monopoly of healthcare services.

Industry experts predict that Kennedy's plan will also provide for significant expansion of existing Medicaid programs for the poor.

They also say that the legislation will likely seek to extend Medicare coverage to people over 55 who often have difficulties obtaining coverage after losing employer-sponsored coverage.  Under current law, only those over the age of 65 are eligible for Medicare benefits.


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