Senate Passes Health Reform Package

Next step is compromise with House plan, before proposal can become law

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One policy expert who touts free-market ideas in health care said the Senate bill, with its threat of fines and other penalties, bodes ill for consumers.

"It's all about devolving power and control over health care -- one-sixth of our economy -- to Washington," said Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based Galen Institute, a non-profit public policy research organization that says it's devoted to advancing free-market ideas in health policy.

The Senate version does not include a so-called public health option. But it does allow the federal Office of Personnel Management to negotiate with private health plans to offer coverage to the uninsured.

AARP, an advocate of the Senate measure, said the bill would strengthen Medicare for beneficiaries.

"The thing that's probably most important over time is it saves them a lot of money," said John Rother, executive vice president of the AARP. Seniors will save money on premiums and out-of-pocket costs, he said, adding, "It also saves them money by making preventive services free."

Still, there's some unfinished business as far as seniors are concerned.

"The most obvious thing for us is it does not finish the job of closing the 'doughnut hole' in the Medicare drug benefit and, of course, we have commitments from the Majority Leader and senior members to do so in the conference with the House," Rother said.

More information

To see how the Senate and House versions of health reform size up, visit The Commonwealth Fund.

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