Health Care Package

"Let's not kid ourselves: 31 million more Americans will have health insurance," Sen. Bernie Sanders told MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan on Thursday.  "If you have a kid that just graduated college, your kid is going to be included in your insurance policy for the first time.  I fought very hard to more than double the number of community health centers in this country in the next 5 years we'll have more than 7,000 communities which will now have health centers where people can walk in, get health care, dental care, mental health counseling, and low cost prescription drugs.  There is going to be insurance reform so that we are going end this pre-existing obscenity where insurance companies can deny you care because you had cancer last year.  This bill is far from perfect.  My intention is to see it get passed, then to improve it in the months and years ahead." 

A package of fixes to the health care bill was unveiled Thursday afternoon.  Those adjustments include a fix for states like Vermont who had already expanded Medicaid coverage for low-income people.  This provision prevents these states from being penalized for doing the right thing.  Sanders said, "I am pleased that in these very difficult economic times we have managed to prevent the State of Vermont and other forward-thinking states from being discriminated against because we did the right thing in providing health coverage for more low-income people.  States that innovate and have addressed the health care crisis should be respected and not penalized.  I am glad that we have accomplished that goal."

Sen. Sanders also announced that an agreement reached today on student aid legislation would provide $36 billion in new spending on Pell grants and preserve a role for the Vermont Student Assistance Corp.  The higher education reforms were combined with a health care reform bill nearing final congressional passage. Pairing the issues and using a time-tested process called reconciliation will enable the Senate to pass both reforms by an up-or-down majority vote, not the supermajority of 60 votes needed to overcome Republican obstruction tactics. Sanders said, “At a time of soaring college costs, President Obama has proposed substantially increasing the size of federal Pell grants to low- and moderate-income students who go to college. I support President Obama’s proposal to cut the billions in subsidies that big banks all over the country receive to issue federally-guaranteed student loans.  At the same time, the legislation recognizes that non-profit institutions like VSAC have done important work in guiding students through the complexities of financing their college educations.  We fought hard to make sure VSAC will be able to continue doing the excellent and important work it has done so well over the years.”

The Medicaid solution fixes underfunding for Vermont as an early leader that already offers more generous Medicaid programs than much of the country.  As part of the effort to expand coverage to uninsured Americans, health reform proposals in the House and the Senate included expansions of the Medicaid program.  The Medicaid expansion will insure more low-income Americans.  Since Vermont already expanding its Medicaid coverage, early formulas would have unintentionally disadvantaged Vermont for not having any "newly eligible" Medicaid enrollees.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy led the negotiations on securing this provision.  Vermont Rep. Peter Welch played a key role in the House of Representatives.

To read more about the higher education loan package, click here.

To read the budget reconciliation package, click here.