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Senate Breaks Health Care Stalemate With Votes on Amendments

Updated December 4, 2009, 11:35 am In its fourth* day of debate on a health care reform bill Thursday, the Senate cast the first of many votes on amendments to the legislation. Senators agreed to safeguard coverage of mammograms and other preventive screenings for women, and rejected a Republican bid to stave off Medicare cuts. In a 61-39 vote, the Senate narrowly approved an amendment co-sponsored by Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski and Maine Republican Olympia Snowe that would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to require insurers to cover screening tests for women free of charge. The move comes in the wake of a heated controversy over a government advisory panel’s recent recommendation that women don’t need routine mammograms in their 40s. Those guidelines prompted fears that health care reform legislation might lead to health care rationing.
“This amendment makes sure that the insurance companies must cover the basic preventive care that women need at no cost,” Mikulski said. She added, “At the end of the day we do know that early detection and screening does save lives and at the same time saves money.” Republicans criticized the amendment for giving too much power to the federal government. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, said that although she agrees with Sen. Mikulski about the goals of preventive screenings, she couldn’t agree with having the federal government “in the middle of these health care coverage decisions.” Also, in a 58-42 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment from Arizona Republican John McCain that proposed stripping more than $400 billion in Medicare spending cuts from the health care bill. The cuts — which amount to a 2 percent slowdown in spending — are a major source of financing for the $848 billion package. Republicans have argued the cuts to providers and health insurance plans will mean seniors in the popular Medicare Advantage plan will lose benefits. “Medicare is already in trouble. The program needs to be fixed, not raided to create another new government program,” said GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Democrats contend seniors will not lose any guaranteed benefits and the cuts will help keep Medicare running. “My colleagues on the Republican side have resorted to the politics of fear to preserve a broken health care system,” said Iowa Democrat Sen.Tom Harkin. “What we’re hearing are scare tactics designed to mislead seniors.” Get more NewsHour coverage of health care reform on our Rx for Reform site. *Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this post stated that the vote took place on the Senate’s third day of debate.

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