Magazine article The Alcoholism Report

Senate Committee Takes First Small Step toward Health Care Reform

Magazine article The Alcoholism Report

Senate Committee Takes First Small Step toward Health Care Reform

Article excerpt

Prospects Diminishing in the House for Completion of Committee Work by July 4 Recess

Although none of the five major committees tasked with reforming our nation's health care system completed action by the informal Memorial Day deadline, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee became the first full committee to pass health care legislation on June 9.

"The time for action is now," said committee chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA). "Before Congress completes its work this year, the American people will finally have the health care reform and health security they deserve."

The proposal adopted by the committee by an 11 to 6 margin, expands the coverage for mental health and substance abuse over all current proposals--including the president's.

Just as health care reform was gaining much needed forward momentum in the Senate, it has become apparent that at least two of the three House committees drafting health care legislation will not be finished by the July 4 holiday recess, and may in fact be deadlocked.

House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) conceded to reporters on June 10 that the prospects for having legislation ready for floor action by the July 4 break are extremely doubtful. "I don't think you can get a written bill through the necessary committees by July 4," he said.

One Down, One To Go Senate Action Update

Senate Labor and Human Resources

As reported in the last edition of AR, Kennedy placed before the committee a chairman's mark that greatly expands the coverage for mental health and substance abuse over the president's proposal.

Evolution of the Benefits Package

On May 18 the committee began its deliberations of Kennedy's mark with Democrats aligned solidly behind the proposal, and Republican support "a bit thin," according to committee member Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT).

However, it appeared as though Jeffords had underestimated the bipartisan spirit of the committee when it unanimously approved an amendment that maintained the integrity of the benefits package. Offered by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the measure would require a national health board to analyze the cost of the benefits, as well as the effectiveness of the cost containment mechanisms, and then issue recommendations for any necessary adjustments.

Congress would then have 45 days in which to review these recommendations and take action on any proposed adjustments. If the Congress took no action within that time period, the changes proposed by the board would automatically take effect.

Bingaman offered the amendment in an attempt to counter an effort by ranking minority member of the committee Senator Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) to strike the entire benefit package contained in Kennedy's proposal. At no time during this debate were the mental health and substance abuse provisions specifically targeted for elimination.

Kassebaum's amendment would have removed the benefits package from the Kennedy mark, and placed the decision of what benefits to cover in the hands of a national board, which would then issue a package for the Congress to either accept or reject in its entirety.

Kassebaum criticized the benefits package in Kennedy's proposal as too expansive. "Everybody wants everything covered, but we cannot pay for it, and we need to be honest with the American public," Kassebaum said.

In defense of his mark, Kennedy told committee members, "We want the American people to understand very clearly what they're entitled to and to what they are not entitled."

Senate Finance Committee

As the Senate returned from the Memorial Day recess, all eyes were on the Senate Finance Committee and its chairman Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) who angered many within his own party on June 9 when he unveiled a proposal fashioned after the president's Health Security Act.

"I offered this [proposal] to show the committee what I think most of us have agreed to," said Moynihan. …

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