Speaking at the CQ HealthBeat Conference this morning, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) characterized the Republican push to treat the midterm elections as a referendum on health care reform as a “gift” and said he expected voters to embrace the bill once it passes. Harkin also predicted that the House would pass the Senate bill by March 18 and the final legislation would arrive on President Obama’s desk by March 27th.
“I think Mitch McConnell may have given us a big gift the other day,” Harkin said, referring to McConnell’s appearance on ABC’s This Week. “He’s on tape, when he said, ‘they pass this bill and I know what our campaign will be this November, it will be that we’re going to repeal it,’ — on tape. Just think of the dynamics of that. It’s okay to say that now because people don’t know what’s in the bill. Once it’s passed, signed into law, then they know”:
HARKIN: You see politically, before you pass legislation, especially meaningful legislation, there is always this back and forth and people are confused, I understand that…once a bill is passed and signed into law, then the American people have something. They have it. It’s theirs. It’s much harder, I think, for the opposition of that legislation to then come out, and say ‘that was wrong and I’m going to repeal it.’
Republicans are hoping to use the bill’s prolonged implementation period to turn public opinion against the Democrats in the short term. On Sunday, McConnell also stressed that “the benefits don’t kick in for four years.” “Just looking at the politics of it there’s nothing but pain here for the next four years. Why in the world would they conclude that would be popular?” Under the Senate bill, most of the health insurance reforms and the exchanges don’t begin until 2014, but Democrats believe that the bill’s early deliverables will win-over reluctant voters.
“Sometimes I wish I kind of wish I was running for re-election this year, I know that sounds odd” Harkin admitted. “But I would like to hear my opponent come out and say, ‘I want to repeal those lifetime caps.’” “I think once the American people know what they’ve got and they say, we’re going to take it away, that won’t wash,” Harkin said and listed several other provisions that begin in year one. They include:
1) Health insurers cannot exclude coverage of pre-existing conditions for children.
2) Prohibits insurers from imposing lifetime limits on benefits and tightly restricts insurance companies’ use of annual limits to ensure access to needed care
3) Will stop insurers from rescinding insurance when claims are filed, except in cases of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of material fact.
4) $5 million in federal support for a new program to provide affordable coverage to uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions.
5) $10 million investment in Community Health Centers.
6) Immediate access to re-insurance for employer health plans providing coverage for early retirees,
7) Will reduce the size of the donut hole in year 1 and close it completely by 2020.
8) Will offer tax credits to small businesses beginning in 2010 to make employee coverage more affordable.
9) Plans in the individual and small group market must spend 80 percent of premium dollars on clinical services and quality activities, and 85 percent for plans in the large group market.
10) Will require insurers to permit children to stay on family policies until age 26.
11) Coverage of prevention and wellness benefits will be exempt from deductibles and other cost-sharing requirements in public and private insurance coverage.
12) Insurers will have to justify premium increases and a new federal agency will have the authority to deny significant and unnecessary hikes.
The Plum Line’s Greg Sargent pointed out that Obama stressed the bill’s immediate benefits at his health care rally in Pennsylvania, telling wavering Democrats, “[i]f you vote for health reform, some of your own constituents will — this year — suddenly find themselves with insurance where they had none. Your own consistuents will not be dropped arbitrarily from coverage, even if they get sick. Some of your own constituents will suddenly enjoy free preventive care they didn’t have before. And you will be able to take credit for it.”
Harkin also said that the bill is not perfect and will have to be amended over time. “One of the things that I want to disabuse people of is this idea that somehow once we pass health care reform that’s it. This health care bill is not the 10 Commandments written by the finger of God forever and ever. It’s a bill passed by humans and as such, we’re going to change it. It’s going to be amended.”