The battle continues

January 18, 2010

Tomorrow, 19 January 2010, the people of Massachusetts will elect a new Senator, who will occupy the post left by the late Ted Kennedy who passed away last September. And the health care debate takes a front-and-center position in the race between the major-party candidates: Democrate Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown.

So what is now the situation on the US health care reform?

On Christmas eve, a majority of the US Senators has agreed on its version of the health reform bill, which has led President Obama to speak of “a historic vote” and to say “we are now incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in this country”.

The reform bill that passed the Senate includes, like the House bill, the toughest measures ever taken in the US to hold the insurance industry accountable.  Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny health coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition.  They will no longer be able to drop coverage when the assured get sick.  No longer will people have to pay unlimited amounts out of their own pockets for the treatments they need.  And people will be able to appeal unfair decisions by insurance companies to an independent party.

Now the two bills have to be merged into one text to be accepted by both the Senate and the House, before it can be submitted for signature to President Obama. An important difference between Republicans and Democrats is their respective proposals of how the reform will be financed.

The House bill proposes a taxation of the higher incomes, while the Senate bill includes a provision taxing high premium health plans provided by employers. The latter – the so-called Cadillac tax – was at first strongly opposed by the Unions, who said that it is unfair to workers who have traded larger paychecks for better insurance coverage.

However, last Friday 15 January 2010, at a the meeting with the White House administration, the Unions finally agreed after having obtained significant concessions such as an exemption for residents of States where the cost of health care is particularly high, as well as for employees in high-risk professions.

But Republican candidate Brown has now called for Congress to ‘go back to the drawing board’ and come up with a new plan, and polls show that he is closing the gap with his opponent, Democrat candidate Coakley. So the debate is far from finished and the battle continues…

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