I had the good fortune to travel to Washington, DC., and interview Senator Jeff Bingaman on September 18 about Medicare for All, the Baucus Bill and other topics related to health care reform.
Everybody's favorite diarist, Land of Enchantment, was kind enough to edit my video and post it on YouTube.
Thank you LoE for putting up with me and editing the video! It is embedded after the fold. A summary (not a transript) of Parts One and Two follows the videos for the YouTube impaired.
First, a disclaimer:
I am not a professional journalist and I happen to like my Senator. Last winter, a few New Mexico County health directors got wind of a quiet Bush Administration plan to eliminate emergency rooms serving the uninsured through an arcane change of regulations. We could not believe the lack of news coverage, and went to Senator Bingaman for help. He took on the issue (with no help from leadership in either party, or any other Senator), and successfully pushed through a moratorium on the rules changes as an amendment to the budget for Iraq.
He could just as easily have let all the indigent and teaching hospitals go under and then blamed the Republican Party. That's why I like him.
Here's the vid in two parts. Please don't hold the camerawork against me!
Summary Part 1
I (along with most of my readers) am a supporter of Medicare for All. Many readers of blogs are dissatisfied with the shortcomings of the Baucus Bill. How do we get from what we have to what we want?
Jeff Bingaman: I was involved in the writing of the HELP and finance bills. The Baucus Bill is an improvement over what we have today. There is some disussion regarding how much we can afford in subsidies. The HELP bill includes substantially more in subsidies than does the finance bill. We can move the Finance bill in the direction of the HELP bill but probably can't get it all the way there. There is a strong public option in the HELP bill and we will try to include it in Finance but we may not have the votes.
Me: Assuming that Finance produces a conservative bill, what opportunities exist to reintroduce the Public Option and how can my readers help?
Jef Binfgaman: Yes. We will pass something out of Senate Finance next week (this was filmed on 9/18, prior to the addition of Senator Kennedy's replacement). Then Senator Reid will have to merge the two bills keeping in mind that we need 60 votes to avoid a fillibuster. Once the bill reaches the floor, it is open to amendment from anyone.
We will need sixty votes to pass the bill on to the House (this has changed) and then again after the conference between the House and the Senate, so at every stage we will need 60 votes. Your readers can help by persuading additional Senators to support the Public Option.
Summary, Part 2
I asked the Senator about several provisions in the Baucus Bill.
Me: Will the "Free Rider," penalize employers for hiring low income persons who require a federal subsidy for health care, while creating a greater incentive to hire undocumented workers, especially in poor border states like New Mexico?
Jeff Bingaman: This is a difference between the HELP and Finance bills. The HELP bill requires employers who have 26 or more employees to either provide coverage or pay the federal government $750 per employee per year. The Finance bill tries to avoid a federal mandate. If an employer hires 51 or more employees, then s/he must pay the cost of the federal subsidy of each employee that is subsidized by the government (with a cap). I agree that this discriminates against employers who hire low income workers so I support the HELP version. Finance adopted the alternative strategy due to pressure from business groups but the provision places an undue burden on low income Americans. I prefer the HELP "Pay or Play" provision.
Me: You worked very hard to get prevention measures, and especially obesity prevention measures, included in the HELP bill. Diabetes is huge in New Mexico. What happened to those provisions?
Jeff Bingaman: They will probably end up in the final bill. The Finance Committee didn't actually object to them. It just didn't have jurisdiction over those measures.
Me: Poor states like New Mexico experience tremendous gaps in services. The average age for a dentist in New Mexico is 55 and we have no dental school. We lack specialists in many fields including behavioral health. I don't know why we call what we have capitated care. It seems like it should be called decapitated care because it doesn't cover anything in the head.
Jeff Bingaman: The HELP bill includes provisions for training of physicians and medical personnel. We include incentives in the Medicare payment sshedule designed to attract physicians to primary care which is a shortage area in New Mexico and elsewhere.
UPDATE: I forgot to add my funny waiting room story. I'm sitting in the waiting room next to a good looking woman (who happens to be a cardiologist) with red hair and a name tag that reads "Jane." An entourage of men bursts from the inner sanctum and one of them looks at her. He growls, "I used to be married to a couple of Janes. Thank God your not one of them." She looks horrified and he leaves. She says, "That's the most obnoxious pick-up line I've ever heard. Who does he think he is?"
The receptionist answers: "That was Ted Turner."
I googled it and he was married to two Janes.
I asked Senator Bingaman, at the end of the interview, what Turner wanted. He looked startled and told me that he is interested in solar energy and global warming and wanted to talk about a solar energy project.