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A Democrat's view from the House: Senate bill isn't health reform

By Louise M. Slaughter, Special to CNN
  • Senate bill isn't worthy of being called health reform, says Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York)
  • Slaughter, who heads Rules Committee, says lack of public option is a fatal flaw
  • She says Senate bill would not stir competition among big insurance firms
  • Slaughter: Senate needs to go back and start over on health care

Editor's note: Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a Democrat, represents the 28th Congressional District of New York. Slaughter is the first woman to chair the House Rules Committee and the only microbiologist in Congress.

Washington (CNN) -- The Senate health care bill is not worthy of the historic vote that the House took a month ago.

Even though the House version is far from perfect, it at least represents a step toward our goal of giving 36 million Americans decent health coverage.

But under the Senate plan, millions of Americans will be forced into private insurance company plans, which will be subsidized by taxpayers. That alternative will do almost nothing to reform health care but will be a windfall for insurance companies. Is it any surprise that stock prices for some of those insurers are up recently?

I do not want to subsidize the private insurance market; the whole point of creating a government option is to bring prices down. Insisting on a government mandate to have insurance without a better alternative to the status quo is not true reform.

By eliminating the public option, the government program that could spark competition within the health insurance industry, the Senate has ended up with a bill that isn't worthy of its support.

The public option is the part of our reform effort that will lower costs, improve the delivery of health care services and force insurance companies to offer rates and services that are reasonable.

Although the art of legislating involves compromise, I believe the Senate went off the rails when it agreed with the Obama Administration to water down the reform bill and no longer include the public option.

But that's not the only thing wrong with the Senate's version of the health care bill.

Under that plan, insurance companies can punish older people, charging them much higher rates than the House bill would allow.

In the House, we fought hard to repeal McCarran-Ferguson, the antitrust exemption that insurance companies have enjoyed for years. We did that because we believed firmly that those Fortune 500 corporations should not enjoy special treatment.

Yet the Senate bill does not include that provision -- despite assurances from some members that they will seek to add it. By ending that protection, we will be able to go after insurance companies with federal penalties for misleading advertising or dishonest business practices.

The House bill would cover 96 percent of legal residents, while the Senate covers 94 percent. Compared with the House bill, the Senate's bill makes it much easier for employers to avoid the responsibility of providing insurance for their workers.

And of course, the Senate bill did not remove the onerous choice language intended to appeal to anti-abortion forces.

Now don't get me wrong; the current House and Senate bills are a significant improvement over the status quo. Given the hard path to reform and the political realities of next year, there is a sizable group within Congress that wants to simply cut any deal that works and call it a success. Many previous efforts have failed, and the path to reform is littered with unsuccessful efforts championed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Bill Clinton.

Supporters of the weak Senate bill say "just pass it -- any bill is better than no bill."

I strongly disagree -- a conference report is unlikely to sufficiently bridge the gap between these two very different bills.

It's time that we draw the line on this weak bill and ask the Senate to go back to the drawing board. The American people deserve at least that.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Louise Slaughter.