07/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bringing Seniors to the Health Care Table

Rarely in Washington do you come across a moment of unequivocal bipartisan alignment, especially on an issue as polarizing as health-care reform. Today was one of them.

A few hours ago, President Obama joined with Barry Rand, head of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and Senators Baucus (D-Mont.) and Dodd (D-Conn.), to help close a gap in coverage under the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. This followed Saturday's unprecedented announcement by the pharmaceutical industry that drug companies would provide $80 billion worth of discounts on medications frequently purchased through Medicare. As part of the agreement, the industry would cut the cost of prescription drugs for a number of recipients in half, building on a pledge last month to help reduce health care spending by $2 trillion and closing what many have called the "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D.

This is significant for two reasons. First, it helps ensure that seniors -- a critical voice to ensuring that health care reform becomes a reality this year -- have a seat at the decision-making table. One of the reasons the 1993 Clinton health plan failed was the lack of support among seniors, who at the time didn't trust that Medicare would be protected. Today's announcement and pledge of support by the nation's largest seniors' lobby will undoubtedly ease any concerns that a critical voting block is being left out of the debate. If anything, strengthening Medicare Part D will reignite seniors' enthusiasm for comprehensive health care reform and further highlight the provision as a vehicle for the successful delivery of health care.

Second, it shows a glimpse of much needed bi-partisanship after a week of stalled progress. The Congressional Budget Office recently projected the cost of the Senate Finance Committee's plan at approximately $1.6 trillion over 10 years, a figure that even leading congressional Democrats acknowledge is far too costly. The administration needs a minimum of 60 votes in the Senate to enact comprehensive reform this year, which will require bi-partisan support at a time when budget deficits are soaring.

As President Obama noted over the weekend, the agreement "is a tangible example of the type of reform that will lower costs while assuring quality health care for every American." While the debate is far from over, today he came one step closer to making this a reality.

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