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Senate Health Reform Bill: Pace May Pick Up

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he expects the Senate to hold 4 votes today on H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act bill.

McConnell, R-Ky., spoke shortly after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., came to the floor to complain about what he said were Republican stalling tactics.

A few minutes later, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., came out and said the Senate will start today by voting on a women’s preventive benefits amendment offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and a cancer testing amendment offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

In the afternoon, the Senate will vote on a motion by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to send the bill back to a Senate Finance Committee for a rewrite, and a counter proposal by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Baucus said.

The Bennet amendment, introduced Wednesday, would state that nothing in the PPACA would result in a reduction in guaranteed Medicare benefits.

Senators began debating the PPACA bill Monday, and discussions have focused mainly on a proposal to cut Medicare and Medicare Advantage program funding by a total of about $500 billion over the 10-year period starting in 2010. Medicare spent about $420 billion in 2009, and, if current budget practices prevailed, the program would spend a total of about $5 trillion from 2010 to 2019, according to analysts at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Menlo Park, Calif.

Reid created H.R. 3590 by melding health bills developed by the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Republicans have argued that Reid and other Senate Democrats spent 6 weeks drafting the bill behind closed doors and ought to give them time to debate and try to amend the bill.

“This has been a strictly partisan venture from the beginning,” McConnell said. “The American people will not stand for not having a free and open amendment process.”

Baucus said Republicans who want to offer amendments have to work with Senate Democratic leaders to work out a schedule for getting the amendments onto the floor in a more timely manner.

Lawmakers have signed up to offer 72 amendments, but most are described as “purpose will be available when the amendment is proposed for consideration.”

Also during floor debate, McConnell said the Democrats’ move to let the Bennet amendment come to the floor is a “shell game.”

“If the Bennet amendment passes, the bill will still cut a half a trillion dollars from Medicare,” McConnell said.

The Bennet amendment would guarantee the Medicare Part A hospital insurance and Part B physician services benefits that are promised by the government. Republicans have argued that Medicare Advantage benefits and Medicare Part D prescription drug benefits also are important to beneficiaries and help fill in the large coverage gaps built into the Part A and Part B programs. Democrats have countered that those benefits are offered by private insurers and are not the same as the Medicare benefits promised by the government.

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