by Alex Sange
As Congress comes back in session and health care reform floats to the top of nearly everyone’s political agenda, legislators are still working hard to resolve some big ideological differences. As John mentioned in his his post this week, Congress can agree on roughly 80% of the substance of reform: increased regulation of the insurance industry, creation of a consumer-friendly marketplace for individuals to purchase insurance, subsidies to ensure that health care is affordable to all, investments in primary care and workforce, and a minimum level of benefits for everyone. That still leaves about 20% of the plan up in the air, though, and Congress will need to negotiate an agreement on a couple of key issues – the ‘public option,’ and the overall cost of reform – before the President has a bill on his desk. Here’s a look at a few of the Moderate Rs and Ds who’ll be offering ideas and making deals as the Senate puts together what could be the final bipartisan word on health reform.
Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)
Senator Snowe is a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee and one of six committee members in the so-called ‘Gang of Six’ – the small group of legislators working to draft a bipartisan health care reform bill for SFC to consider and mark up. Senator Snowe is a power-player in these discussions and, although she opposes a public option, she’s working hard with the White House and the Senate Finance Committee to craft an alternative that policymakers can get behind from the left or the side of the aisle. Health Centers have a great supporter in Senator Snowe – as the Republican lead on the MATCH Act (S648/HR143) and a NACHC Health Center Champion, the Senator will continue to advocate for health centers and health care for the underserved in Maine and nationwide.
Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska)
Senator Nelson may be the most moderate Democrat in the Senate and leadership needs to make sure they’ve got his vote on a plan before they can safely bring a bill to the floor. The Senator has pledged his commitment to a bipartisan health care reform bill, and he continues to host town halls and public forums across Nebraska to learn what’s important to communities, small business owners and individuals in a reformed health system. Senator Nelson has not supported a health care reform proposal to date but he’s hopeful Congress can work out an effective plan that controls cost, builds on private sector solutions and our current employer-based system, and allows consumers to purchase insurance through state-controlled marketplaces. Health centers have staunch supporter in Senator Nelson – he’s a NACHC Health Center Champion and he worked hard this year to ensure the ARRA included $1 billion for health centers to upgrade their facilities and equipment.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Senator Collins is one of the two Republicans (Senator Snowe is the other) considered most likely to break party lines and vote for a Democrat-supported health reform bill. Senator Collins has been negotiating with the White House and Democrat leadership for months and remains committed to curbing growing health care costs while ensuring that all Americans can access affordable health care. The Senator recently stated that she is concerned about the high costs of the health care bills now under consideration and she awaits the more bipartisan bill that the Senate Finance Committee is likely to produce. Senator Collins is a NACHC Health Center Champion for her early and strong leadership in negotiating the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and for her ongoing work to bring more primary care providers to underserved communities.
Senator George Voinovich (R-OH)
Senator Voinovich may be the Moderate to watch in the days ahead – he is committed to fighting for Americans’ access to quality, affordable health care, he’s crossed party lines to buck his party in the past, and he’s recently announced his upcoming retirement from the Senate. All told, this could make him more likely than even Senators Collins and Snowe to cross party lines in support of a Democrat plan because he wouldn’t have to worry so much about upsetting his Republican colleagues. Senator Voinovich supports state leadership in the reformed health care system and, while he has expressed appreciation for the President’s leadership and ideas, the Senator remains concerned about the overall cost of reform, the level of autonomy given to states, and unresolved problems in current public programs. Senator Voinovich has been a supporter of expansion of the health center program and supports using private-public partnerships to ensure that Americans can access comprehensive and affordable health care.
Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas)
Senator Lincoln is a member Senate Finance Committee and the Subcommittee on Health Care and she is committed to fiscally responsible reform that gives all Americans access to affordable, quality health care. The Senator has pledged that she will not allow health care reform to add to the federal deficit and recently went so far as to withdraw her support for a public option on the grounds that we cannot, as a nation, afford to create a new entitlement program. Fortunately, health centers can count on Senator Lincoln’s support in Senate Finance Committee – the Senator’s a NACHC Health Center Superhero and she continues to advocate for affordable health care for all Americans and Medicaid eligibility for every uninsured American in poverty.