Forget it, sweetheart
Consider reform bills on merits, not the pork they carry for individual states
Over the past few tumultuous weeks, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed major pieces of legislation designed to fundamentally change the nation’s healthcare delivery system. But as we and many other news outlets have reported, federal lawmakers may not have voted for healthcare reform per se as much as they may have voted for sweetheart provisions contained in the reform legislation.
With so much at stake not just for the healthcare industry but also for the future economic health of the country, we urge the lawmakers charged with reconciling the House and Senate bills to strip out all the pork and force each member of Congress to vote solely on the merits of the merged bill. That’s the right thing to do, and that’s the only way the American public will be convinced that their elected officials acted in their collective best interest, not in the interest of voters in a handful of states represented by savvy politicians.
Would Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) have voted for the Senate bill absent their sweetheart Medicaid deals?
Would Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have voted for the bill absent his sweetheart community health centers deal?
Would Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) have voted for the bill absent his sweetheart academic medical center deal?
Those examples are just the ones that have garnered national attention. But we’re sure that there are dozens if not hundreds more in the fine print of the two massive reform bills as well as other wink-and-anod deals that were never written down. Leaders in both the House and Senate have brushed aside criticism of horse-trading as business as usual in Washington. They say that’s how things get done and how things always have gotten done. So it’s no big deal.
Maybe that’s true. But with legislation that holds the potential of for- ever changing the course of healthcare and the nation’s economy, we need to hold Congress to a higher standard. The feedback from our readers indicates that most of them feel the same way (See Letters, p. 21). Regardless of where they come down on healthcare reform, they’re not happy about how the respective bills got passed out of both chambers.
So, the question becomes, who will step up and demand that each representative and senator come clean and disavow special-interest provisions and vote for or against the merged reform bill solely on the merits of the legislation? Does the final bill heading to President Barack Obama’s desk expand access, control costs and improve quality? Yes or no, senator? Yes or no, congressman?
It likely won’t be congressional leaders, as they’re the ones who cut the sweetheart deals. It likely won’t be Obama because his priority is the passage of a healthcare reform bill. He’s not sweating the details on how it gets passed. It likely won’t be the American people because they don’t seem to have any say in the reform process. Public opinion either way is quickly dismissed as extremism that shouldn’t be taken seriously. It won’t be the media. The media are in the same boat as the public. Opinions either way are jettisoned as liberal or conservative bias.
So that leaves healthcare executives and industry leaders. Who knows better than the people who run and lead the healthcare delivery system whether the proposed reforms in a merged bill will expand access, control costs and improve quality? They should step up and demand that all 535 representatives and senators push their gravyfilled plates away from the table and take a stand on the merits of the merged bill. They need to do so despite the fact that many of the sweetheart deals will benefit their organizations financially. They need to look beyond their own interests and call Congress on what it’s doing. It’s what their patients—the sick and injured who rely on them for care—need them to do.