Healthcare continued to gain prominence in Washington as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) outlined a sweeping plan to cover the nation's 43.6 million uninsured, while separately Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) introduced a bill to correct "serious structural problems" in the new Medicare reform law. Kennedy's $70 billion-per-year plan would require all employers with more than 50 workers to provide healthcare coverage, capping employers' contributions at 12% of their payroll. A new National Health Benefits Program would cover anyone not eligible for other government healthcare programs or employer-based coverage. Meanwhile, Cardin's proposed adjustments to the reform law include reversing its prohibition against HHS negotiating with drugmakers for lower prices.
Kennedy said he would not take money from hospitals and doctors to finance his proposals. "Arbitrary cutbacks for hard-pressed hospitals and physicians are the wrong remedy," he said at a Families USA healthcare conference in Washington. Criticizing the Medicare reform law, which will increase the role of private health plans in the program, and the proposals President Bush made in his State of the Union address earlier this week, Kennedy said, "The most important single step we can take to strengthen Medicare is to privatize George Bush, not privatize Medicare." A spokesman for Kennedy said he would introduce legislation for his plan soon. -- by Jeff Tieman