I have to say that when the initial compromise of allowing 55-64 year olds buy into Medicare was introduced I felt that it was a major breakthrough in the Senate – one that would finally lead the way to real passage of health care reform. But of course that initial sense of hope was quickly stifled when Sen. Joe Lieberman once again threw his independent weight around and threatened to filibuster the bill. Of course, it doesn’t matter that back in 2000, while running for Vice President under Al Gore, Lieberman favored 55-64 year olds buying into Medicare.
So why was Lieberman for buying into Medicare before he was against it? “It was different back in 2000,” says Lieberman. In many ways he is correct. Back then, we had a budget surplus and Medicare was not on the brink of bankruptcy. Also, there were less providers that were unsatisfied with the reimbursement rates. Nine years later, Medicare does face a load of problems from rampant fraud to very low reimbursement rates for many providers, especially in rural areas. Throw in the added budget deficits, and one can almost understand Lieberman’s opposition to the Medicare compromise.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel that Sen. Lieberman is still a turncoat in disguise and is harmful to good comprehensive health care reform. Despite his claims to the contrary, one has to wonder just how much the insurance companies, which are plentiful in his home state of Connecticut have his ear. But the bottom line is that with the current makeup of the Senate, there is no way that any form of a public option is going to make it. But despite the lack of a public option, the Senate bill does offer several elements that will make a positive impact. Prohibiting denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions. Subsidies for lower-income earners. A new health insurance exchange. Consumer friendly protections. These are key components that all Democratic members agree are needed immediately.
Sure, I wish Harry Reid didn’t have to cave in to Sen. Nelson and allow the insurance companies to retain their anti-trust exemption. Sure, I wish there was some form of a public option. This bill is just a start, and a start that after decades of inaction will finally put us on the path of real health care reform.
Ideally, the blame for the watered down version will fall squarely on the conservative wing of the party. Lieberman. Nelson. Lincoln. Hopefully this is their last go around in the Senate and get voted out in their respective primaries in favor of more progressive candidates. Perhaps then, in 5 or 10 years, we can come back and revisit the public option and in fact pass it.
So for now, let Joe Lieberman have his way. And in 2012, the voters of Connecticut can stand up and have theirs.