By Anna Gustafson
U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) last week criticize the Senate for passing a health care bill that does not include a public option and vowed to alter the legislation before it goes to the president’s desk for final approval.
“The Senate erred in not including the cost control that comes with the public option,” Weiner said after the Senate’s Dec. 24 vote. “ I’m going to work hard for a final bill that improves on what the Senate passed.”
Weiner and other Democrats, including President Barack Obama, had advocated for the public option, which would give individuals the opportunity to join a government-run insurance group. Such a program would drive down health care costs and force insurance companies to provide more competitive and affordable prices, according to Weiner.
The House bill, passed 220-215 last month, includes a public option. The Senate bill passed by a vote of 60-39, with no Republicans supporting the measure.
Following lawmakers’ return to Washington, D.C., in January, a committee will be formed to reconcile the differences between the pieces of legislation. A final vote by the Senate and the House would occur before finally sending the bill to Obama for approval.
Despite criticism from individuals like Weiner, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson, New York’s two U.S. senators called the bill passed the morning of Christmas Eve a historic piece of legislation that would provide health care for millions of uninsured Americans.
“Today is a great day for New York families,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said. “There are 2.7 million New Yorkers who are now one step closer to getting affordable, quality health care coverage, which will also reduce the hidden tax to New York for caring for the uninsured. Now that is an historic Christmas.”
Still, Gillibrand conceded the bill would have been better with the public option.
“While this is a good bill, it is not perfect,” she said. “I believe that a public option is the best way to reduce costs.”
The Senate’s bill would require most Americans to have health insurance. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would cover 31 million more individuals who are now uninsured. Not all uninsured people in the country would have access to health care, and the CBO said it expects 23 million will still be uninsured after the bill goes into effect.
The legislation would also add 15 million people to Medicaid and subsidize private coverage for low-income residents, according to the CBO.
Bloomberg and Paterson have expressed concerns about the impact of the health care bill on New York state, saying a mandate to expand the Medicaid program without federal help would cause further financial strife for the state.
“The Senate bill adds close to an additional $1 billion annually in new state Medicaid costs to New York,” Paterson said. “This could result in a 15 percent reduction in payments to providers, meaning hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and community clinics could ultimately face these reductions because of strained state and city budgets.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.