The health care debate continues in Washington this week, as senators try to broker a compromise before congress breaks for the Christmas holiday.
The Senate’s health care legislation underwent two major changes in the last week: the elimination of a public option, and the striking of provisions allowing people to buy into Medicare at age 55.
Michigan Senator Carl Levin was in favor of both, but he’s still optimistic that a healthcare overhaul can move forward.
“I am, of course, disappointed that it’s not part of the bill,” said Levin. “But this bill’s got an awful lot of other provisions in it which make it important that we pass this bill. We’ve got to put, we’ve got to find some way to end this spiraling increase in health care costs. And right now, health care’s going up far far faster than is the inflation rate. So we’ve got to find ways that we can reduce some of the waste in the system, and this will do that.”
Trimming waste in the system is one of Levin’s biggest priorities for health care legislation.
He said the bill being considered by the Senate does that, by streamlining healthcare administration.
“Right now we’ve got, in each hospital, they’re confronted with hundreds of different codes, from different insurance companies, for what will be covered, what are the deductibles, what are the co-pays, what are the limits. And we’re going to put an end to that so that we have a much more streamlined system. And it’s going to be a much more efficient system in terms of the billing. We’re going to have much more electronic connections between hospitals and doctors and the insurance companies that pay the bills. We’ve got to bring this system into some kind of an order which will provide security for people and put some downward pressure on prices.”
While Levin is optimistic that the Senate will approve health care legislation before breaking for the Christmas holiday, he admits that democrats are not there yet.
“The democratic leader is looking for the 60th vote to overcome the republican filibuster,” he said. “And I don’t know that he has the 60th vote yet. I think now Senator Lieberman is going to vote for it, because a couple of the pieces he objected to are not in it.”
It was Senator Joseph Lieberman who forced democrats to pull the public option and the Medicare buy-in from the bill, by threatening to filibuster the legislation.
Levin says Lieberman was within his right to do that. And even though Levin disagrees with the filibuster threat, he admits it’s something he’s done in the past.
“During the Bush years, I thought there were a number of things that we didn’t agree with, we were able to stop by requiring the republicans then to get 60 votes,” Levin said. “So while I don’t like it, I didn’t like Lieberman using it. I thought he ought to stay with us, at least on procedural votes with the democrats. He exercised that right, and all we could do was disagree with it, try to talk him out of it, and when that failed, we just had to give in on that issue and go with what we got.”
Some of the more liberal senators, like Roland Burris of Illinois, are now threatening a filibuster if the public option is not included in the Senate’s health care bill.
But Levin thinks such a filibuster is unlikely.
“It’s a little bit harder, I think, to vote against something because it doesn’t have something in it than it is to filibuster against something because it has something in it you don’t like,” he said. “In other words, if you’ve got half a loaf or three-quarters of a loaf and you want the whole loaf, it’s kind of hard to say I’m going to vote against the half loaf or three-quarters loaf. But if there’s something in the bill which you violently oppose, it’s a little bit easier then I think to make people understand, ‘hey, there’s something in this bill that I cannot accept.'”
Levin is confident that the Senate will pass health care legislation before Christmas.
But it could take longer to reach an agreement with the House; and final passage may not be achieved until sometime next spring.