Rx for Bipartisanship

Posted Aug. 21, 2009, at 5:52 p.m.

There is talk that Democrats in Washington may move ahead with health care legislation on their own. Given the public confusion — and therefore distrust — about what such legislation will and will not do, a solely Democratic bill will only add to that lack of trust.

A go-it-alone approach is also premature. When the drafting of health care reform bills began earlier this year, insiders said the Senate Finance Committee bill was likely to be the one that ultimately moved ahead. Drafting of that bill is still underway.

Sen. Olympia Snowe is part of a bipartisan group, dubbed the gang of six, that is writing the bill. The other Republicans in the gang are Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming. The three Democrats are Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. Theirs is the only bipartisan process on health care reform that is still underway.

When the group meets, which is frequently, they spend three to four hours going issue-by-issue, Sen. Snowe said recently. “We focus on what can work and what can’t work,” she said, adding “we can’t rush through.” The group also asks the Congressional Budget Office to analyze their proposed changes for their financial impact. If the cost is too high, further changes are proposed.

During a brief interview, Sen. Snowe repeatedly called the current situation, with rising health care costs and growing numbers of people unable to afford insurance and therefore, medical care, a crisis. “We can’t overlook the despair and desperation,” she said.

Rising costs are especially harmful to small businesses that increasingly find it difficult to offer health insurance to their employees. That’s why, despite heated exchanges in town hall meetings and remarks from some Republicans that health care reform must be stopped to hand President Obama a defeat, the status quo is unacceptable.

“Republicans have a responsibility to confront the problems,” Sen. Snowe said. A chief goal of the gang of six is to extend insurance coverage to more Americans at an affordable cost.

A major sticking point is likely to be a so-called public option, a government plan that would compete with private insurance. Sen. Snowe supports a trigger mechanism where a public plan would become available if “the private market failed to live up to its obligation to provide affordable health care coverage.”

Affordability is key, Sen. Snowe said, as expensive catastrophic care plans — the only insurance increasing numbers of Mainer and American can afford — offer little in the way of coverage.

This group ultimately may not be able to come up with a bill that all its members can agree on, but its work should not be short circuited by Democratic efforts to go it alone or Republican threats to stop the entire process. The goal — affordable health coverage for all — is too important.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/08/21/opinion/rx-for-bipartisanship/ printed on October 31, 2014