Round 1 of the New Health Care Debate

Bill Scher

Consistent with the country’s shift of the political center towards the left, veto-proof bipartisan majorities sent President Bush a bill that took a stand against the privatization of Medicare, reducing subsidies to private health insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans. As Medicare Advantage plans cost us taxpayers 13% more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare — a waste of $149 billion over 10 years — Congress is wisely taking steps to more effectively spend our health care dollars.

What did President Bush do? Consistent with his 28% approval rating, he stood against effective government and efficient spending, stood up for handouts to insurance companies and vetoed the bill today.

In addition to the insurance industry, also sympathetic to Bush’s decision is Sen. John McCain. He complained to reporters that the bill didn’t limit itself to a separate issue regarding physician reimbursements, saying “They had to put into it a reduction or restriction on the Medicare Advantage program, which then in our view would have harmed what is one of the best programs as far as reductions in cost.”

As that statement doesn’t square with the facts about the cost, only 30 Senators agreed with his “view” when the bill faced a key procedural vote last week. (The entire bill was then approved by unanimous consent, as apparently no one wanted to be on record opposing it — except McCain, who skipped the vote.)

The House has already voted to override the veto today, and the Senate is likely to follow suit later this evening. (UPDATE: The Senate did override, with 70 votes in favor.)

If so, consider this Round 1 of a newly energized health care debate.

It wasn’t long ago when the House came a few votes short of overriding Bush’s veto expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover 4 million additional kids. Now, The Christian Science Monitor reported that some newly emboldened Democrats are discussing a return of SCHIP legislation to the House and Senate floor. And NY Times columnist Paul Krugman expressed optimism that the strong vote against Medicare privatization bodes well for the big fight against the insurance industry to guarantee quality, health coverage for all.

As we’re talking about conservative support for government subsidies to insurance companies, this is not a debate between government versus the market.

This is a debate between good government versus bad government. This is a debate between what’s good for the public’s health versus what’s good for insurance company CEOs.

Bush and McCain have made clear which side they are on.

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