Really, Viagra for sex-offenders?

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By Consumers Union on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

No doubt you’ve seen the headlines and bill-signing ceremonies declaring that health reform is the law of the land. But the reality is, one more bill still must be passed and signed into law to finish the package of reforms — and the vote this week in the Senate is far from a sure thing.

Debate began Tuesday on the ‘fix-it’ bill that makes changes to the House bill already signed into law, and Senate opponents are lining up a vote-o-rama to try and gum up the works. As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein reports, Republicans may offer up to 600 amendments, knowing that any amendment that’s accepted would send the bill back to the House for one more vote.

“The Republican strategy, however, appears to have moved from delay to embarrassment,” Klein writes. “Because Senate Democrats don’t want to change the reconciliation bill and send it back to the House for another vote, they want to reject all Republican amendments. So Republicans are proposing amendments that will be embarrassing for them to reject.”

One of those embarrassing amendments is from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to prohibit sex offenders from getting Viagra prescriptions under federal health programs. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, dismissed the amendment to the AP as a “gotcha” amendment to make it difficult for supporters of reform to oppose. “This is a political exercise for too many on the other side of the aisle,” Durbin told the AP. “We’re going to tell our people back home, ‘It’s time to govern. It’s time to lead.’

So what is it that the Senate is voting on and opponents are trying to stop? Consumer Reports Health explains here what’s in the ‘fix-it’ bill, but among the important provisions:

·Eliminate the so-called “cornhusker kickback” deal, which was made to earn the support of Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-Neb.) Now, all states, not just Nebraska, will get federal aid to expand Medicaid.

·Eventually close the Medicare “doughnut hole” that currently leaves many seniors on the hook for much of their drug costs.

·Increase tax credits to make insurance more affordable for low- and moderate- income Americans, and increase the value of coverage for low-income Americans.

·Reduce the penalty for not buying insurance for low-income Americans, and raise it for higher income earners.

·Raise the penalty on large employers whose employees earn public subsidies because the company fails to offer health insurance.

·Delay the excise tax on high-cost (aka “Cadillac”) health plans, and reduce the number of plans affected.

·Increase payments made to doctors who treat Medicaid recipients, which should expand the number of doctors available to treat the increased number of Americans who will be covered by Medicaid after reform.

·Add several new tools to curb fraud, waste, and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid.

It’s time the Senate gets on with the business of health reform and not put the people who need real help through silly, unnecessary delays. It’s time to finish the job so we can begin implementing the many real benefits of health reform for all Americans.

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