Where Does the Reform Bill Go Now?

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , December 28, 2009

Last week, the votes were finally counted and the Senate healthcare reform bill received the majority of votes—albeit all Democratic votes—and passed 60-39. But with the start of reconciliation between the House and Senate bills slated a few weeks away, what direction is the bill headed for now?

President Obama's spokesperson, Robert Gibbs, stayed optimistic about the final bill's future: "People will have access to affordable insurance. People with insurance won't be discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition. We'll take some tough steps to ensure that insurance companies aren't using the money that's gotten from your premiums to pad their profits, but instead to provide much-needed medical care. I think the American people are on the verge of a very big win in healthcare reform in the—early in the next year," he said on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday.

"I think the president would tell you that what he sees in each of these bills is, in many cases, virtually identical: The major parts of healthcare reform that the president sought to have enacted as a candidate are now very close to happening, and he thinks the commonalty between the two proposals overlaps quite a bit," Gibbs said.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the House Majority Whip, said on CBS' Face the Nation that the reform process does not present unsurmountable problems. "I believe that both the House and Senate bills make tremendous contributions toward bending the cost curve. I think they do a great deal to bring more people into the system," he said.

But he noted that while "the Senate has done a very good bill, I think that the House has done a very good bill as well." But even without a public option, he said the bill will move forward: "Why do we want a public option? We want a public option to do basically three things: create more choice for insurers; create more competition for insurance companies; and to contain costs," he said.

On the other side of the aisle, the opinions are far less rosy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on ABC's This Week, said there are "deep differences among many Democrats, and that the bill is a colossal failure."

Former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich noted on "Meet the Press" that "when you start writing 2,000-page bills, you guarantee that no elected official knows what's in the legislation—it is a fundamentally flawed way of running this country—it's flawed in both parties."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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