Herseth Sandlin backs obscure planLong before Sen. Max Baucus unveiled his health care bill this past week, South Dakota’s House member signed onto a bill that’s gotten a lot less attention and which carries a lot less fiscal heft. After low start-up costs, the bill would cost the federal government nothing.
By: Denise Ross, The Daily Republic
Long before Sen. Max Baucus unveiled his health care bill this past week, South Dakota’s House member signed onto a bill that’s gotten a lot less attention and which carries a lot less fiscal heft. After low start-up costs, the bill would cost the federal government nothing.
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., is one of just 10 co-sponsors of the House version of the Healthy Americans Act, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. Pundits from the right and left have praised the bill, but members of Congress have been less enthusiastic. That might be about to change.
The Senate Finance Committee bill that Montana’s Baucus stood alone to discuss is far from the last word on health care reform. Even an entirely new bill in the House is possible, Herseth Sandlin said.
“There is the possibility of filing a new bill,” she told reporters. Short of that, she said the Baucus bill certainly faces a slew of amendments.
As Washington grapples with the difficulties of rolling out cost-effective health care reform, the Healthy Americans Act is getting another look. President Obama met recently with Wyden and Bennett, Herseth Sandlin said. In Capitol Hill code, she said efforts are under way to get the provisions of the bill into whatever might be signed into law.
“Those discussions are happening, and strategies are being devised,” she said. “There will be opportunities in the upcoming weeks.”
Neither of South Dakota’s senators has signed on to the Healthy Americans Act. A spokesman for Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., called the bill “interesting” and worthy of “additional study, especially in the area of cost containment.”
Sen. John Thune was less circumspect. His spokeswoman said: “The trouble with the Wyden-Bennett bill is that it includes a heavy dose of federal mandates and tax increases,” but added it contains some “good ideas.”
The Healthy Americans Act would require everybody to buy health insurance, would provide government subsidies to help the poor and near-poor buy insurance and would mandate that insurance companies cover all comers, thereby ending practices such as capping lifetime benefits.
Americans would buy health insurance from a marketplace of plans, called pools, set up by state or region. Each plan would be required to meet minimum standards.
One perhaps shocking provision is an outright end to Medicaid, the government’s health insurance for the poor, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan. Government subsidies would pay to replace those programs. (Other government health plans, including Medicare for seniors and coverage for the military and veterans would be unchanged.)
The thinking behind doing away with Medicaid and SCHIP lies in the fact that many doctors won’t see those patients. If they were to buy the same insurance as most others, those access problems should disappear.
The Healthy Americans Act also would eliminate the federal employee health insurance, vaunted for its generous benefits, that members of Congress now enjoy. This might explain the lack of enthusiasm to date.
Denise Ross publishes the Web site Hoghouseblog.com. She writes from Rapid City about South Dakota’s congressional delegation.