Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ailing Kennedy drafts vision of healthcare reform

Ailing Kennedy drafts vision of healthcare reform
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's quest to overhaul U.S. healthcare rests in part on the frail shoulders of Senator Edward Kennedy, a champion of the cause now in the second year of fighting deadly brain cancer.
A towering figure among Democrats who has called providing health insurance to all Americans "the cause of my life," Kennedy recently floated a bill seen as an first draft of Obama's high-stakes effort.
But whether the Democratic-controlled Congress ultimately passes legislation -- and what it looks like -- may depend on how much time and energy the ailing 77-year-old Kennedy can devote to it in coming months. Conservative Republicans and centrist Democrats are ready to chip away at the more liberal elements of his proposal such as a government-run health plan.
"Kennedy is critical to passage (of healthcare legislation)," said James Thurber of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.
"That doesn't mean a bill wouldn't pass without him," Thurber said. "Other people are involved. But he's the key. He knows more about healthcare than anyone else in the Senate, he's widely respected by both parties and is one of the most important senators in history."
Obama has called on Congress to pass legislation by October to create a public insurance program that would compete with private insurers, part of his broader plan to overhaul the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system.
This could be a hurdle for Republicans, who along with some private insurers say Obama is setting the country on the road to a government monopoly on health insurance in his bid to provide cover to an estimated 46 million uninsured Americans.
Democrats may have sufficient votes to ram it through the House of Representatives without any Republican support. But Democrats say they want bipartisan Senate backing. Both chambers must pass a bill before Obama can sign it into law.
Draft legislation by Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would require businesses and individuals to purchase medical coverage and bar insurance companies from refusing to cover anyone because of preexisting conditions.
It would also provide federal subsidies to families buying coverage.
DIFFERENT VISIONS
While Kennedy is influential, another player who will determine the final shape of the Democratic health plan is Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus -- who is seen as far more cautious.
With Kennedy largely sidelined by the brain cancer he was diagnosed with 13 months ago, the more moderate Baucus has taken a higher profile on the drive in the past year.
"The end product will likely be 75 percent Kennedy, 25 percent Baucus," said a senior Democratic leadership aide. Others say the final balance may be more 50-50.
But as a congressional analyst put it: "What everyone knows is that when it comes to cutting a deal, they guy who liberal Democrats have confidence in is Kennedy, not Baucus." Continued...
Source: Reuters

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