Weekly Pulse: Signs of Hope in the Senate

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

Prospects for passing a healthcare bill this year have brightened noticeably, thanks to a Senate seat pickup in Minnesota, support for the budget reconciliation strategy, and overtures towards bipartisanship from key Republicans.

Of all the hurdles facing healthcare reform in 2009, the U.S. Senate
is arguably the most formidable. But the prospects for passing a
healthcare bill this year have brightened noticeably over the past few
days, thanks to a senate seat pickup in Minnesota, solidifying support
for the budget reconciliation strategy, and tentative overtures towards
bipartisanship from key Republicans.

A three-judge panel declared Democrat Al Franken
the winner of the Minnesota senate race. We don’t have a firm date for
seating Franken, but Harry Reid said to be looking forward to doing so
in the near future. Franken is an outspoken advocate for healthcare
reform and favors expanding the public insurance system to cover more

Sen. Kristin Gillibrand,
D-N.Y., spoke out in favor of passing healthcare reform through the
budget reconciliation process this week, as Public News Service
reports. Gilibrand is the latest in a string of Democratic legislators
to support the reconciliation process, which would allow the Senate to
circumvent a filibuster and pass legislation with simple majority vote.

Some Republicans might even be willing to work with the Democrats on healthcare reform. Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is hinting that she might be willing to cooperate with Democrats, Steve Benen writes in the Washington Monthly. And according to Public News Service, Sen. Chuck Grassley,
R-Iowa, is expected to work closely with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. on
healthcare reform legislation: "I think [Grassley] and Senator Max
Baucus of Montana are really the champions of bi-partisanship in this
whole debate. I think that in order for us to get an effective piece of
legislation it’s going to have to be bi-partisan," Lee Hammond,
president-elect of the AARP national board, told Public News Service at
a healthcare forum attended by Grassley.

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A personal essay in The Nation underscores how badly healthcare reform is needed: Medical bills
are threatening to tear Kate Michelman’s family apart. First, her
uninsured adult daughter was paralyzed in a horseback riding accident.
Then her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Eventually
Michelman couldn’t afford to keep her husband in a nursing facility, so
she brought him home, which means she’s unable to work. The irony is
that she thought that her husband had good health insurance plus
long-term care insurance, and relatively speaking, he did-it just
wasn’t enough to keep his family from being bankrupted by a major

For all the good news coming out of the Senate, the private
insurance industry won’t go down with out a fight. James Ridgeway of Mother Jones reports
that insurance companies that provide private Medicare coverage are
holding elderly clients hostage in a battle with the government over
subsidies. The government cut off the subsidy and the insurance
companies sending out propaganda to their policy-holders threatening to
raise premiums and urging them to lobby the government to reverse the subsidy, Ridgeway explains:

Actually, Universal
American is trying to enlist more than just insurance agents in the
struggle to hold on to their sweet deal. It’s trying to bring Medicare
Advantage subscribers and other ordinary old people into the fray,
through a PR initiative misleadingly named The Coalition for Medicare Choices.

Finally, for a refreshing change of pace, The Nation tells the story of healthcare reform in photographs.

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