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It's Not Over Yet: Five Ways You Can Improve the Senate Health Care Bill

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It hasn't been a fun day to be a progressive. The public option is dead. Medicare buy-in is dead. And so is much of our enthusiasm for the future of Health Care Reform. Yet with all of the eulogizing of the public option and arguing about whether or not to "kill the bill", the sausage-making isn't over yet. Over the next week, there are a number of vital amendments to the Senate health care reform bill that can go a long way towards making lemonade out of the lemons that Joe Lieberman has thrown our way. The National Journal has an excellent rundown of the amendments that lie ahead :

'Tri-Partisan' Cost-Cutting Plan
Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Lieberman, I/D-Conn., and Arlen Specter, D-Penn., formed what they called a "tri-partisan" group to offer an amendment aimed at reducing costs. A key feature of the plan is penalizing hospitals when patients get avoidable infections, which extend patient stays and cost millions. Another element would put quality reports for doctors and hospitals on the health insurance exchange. The three senators estimate that their package would save the government $8 billion over 10 years.

Freshmen Cost-Cutting Plan
Led by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., freshman Democrats proposed a package of 11 amendments aimed at getting rid of Medicare's fee-for-service system. The package would have hospitals be reimbursed based on performance and allow more organizations to form accountable care organizations or explore payment alternatives. It would also encourage all players to find cost-cutting measures and would charge the Independent Medicare Advisory Board with overseeing cost-reduction methods. The plans have broad support in the health care industry and co-sponsors from both parties.

Protecting Small Businesses
Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., proposed a package of amendments aimed at helping small business. Lincoln, a key swing vote, has long been an advocate of helping small businesses and is concerned about the effect of health care spending on that sector. The bill would create a tax credit and also eliminate penalties for waiting periods.

More Employee Choice
Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Collins proposed a package of amendment aimed at beefing up the health insurance exchange and increasing the choices available to consumers. The centerpiece of the package is a plan Wyden has been pushing for years that would allow employers to give their employees a voucher where they could purchase health insurance rather than just getting coverage. The Free Choices Act is geared to moving away from the employer health care system.

Repeal Insurers' Antitrust Exemptions
Health insurance companies have long enjoyed an exemption from antitrust regulations, but their opposition to health care reform has put that benefit in Democrats' cross hairs. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has proposed an amendment making insurers subject to federal antitrust laws, especially for practices such as price fixing and market allocation. A similar measure was included in the House bill and has broad support in the Senate, with 21 others signed on.

The last two are especially important. So contact your Senator now and urge them to support amendments to Senate bill HR 3590 that will lower costs, increase competition, and improve patient outcomes.

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