Monday, October 19, 2009

Health Care: I Called Reid's Office. Here's What Happened.

I just got off the phone with a staffer at Senator Harry Reid's Las Vegas office. I had called the DC toll free line (for Nevadans only), but all the lines there were busy. Of course, I was calling regarding the Senate health care bill.

I called to ask what Reid will do during negotiations this week on merging "The Baucus Caucus" Finance Committee HMO bailout and the HELP Committee bill that Ted Kennedy worked on and made sure to include a good public option in. Honestly I can handle most of the Finance Committee financing, but just as long as the HELP Committee policies (like the public option and the more humane subsidies for working families) are what's financed by it. I wanted to see what the staffers knew (and were willing to tell me), as well as to encourage our Senior Senator to get the job done on the public option.

Thankfully, the Las Vegas staffer was courteous and answered to the best of her knowledge. She said she doesn't yet know what the plan is to move the merged Senate bill to passage, but that Harry Reid will make sure it has a public option in it. This caught me by surprise, and not in a bad way.

The staffer didn't use "the r word", but her statement that Reid hasn't yet decided on how to move the Senate bill to passage suggested to me that reconciliation is still on the table. Or hopefully at least, he will be talking with Baucus, Dodd, and The White House about rounding up votes to allow for cloture on any attempted filibuster.

And ultimately, her words to me were that "Reid is fighting for a public option". That part couldn't have been any clearer. He knows he needs the unions and the progressive base to win reelection next year, so he must be realizing that the way to energize us is to get a good health care bill passed with a public option. Also I'm sure he knows this is what's best for Nevadans, especially all the families here struggling and in need of affordable, quality health care.

I also wrote to Harry Reid last weekend, and the letter is posted below. It looks like we still need to encourage him to keep fighting for the public option, but the good news is that he's where we want him to be.

October 19, 2009

Mr. Andrew Davey
0000 My Street
Henderson, Nevada 89074

Dear Mr. Davey:

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts regarding health insurance reform. I appreciate hearing from you.

In America today, concerns about our health care system have been rightly brought to the forefront of the national consciousness. Many of us are familiar with the reports of 47 million uninsured Americans, escalating prescription drug prices, and declining health insurance benefits. Unfortunately, for too many across Nevada and the country, these facts and statistics are not anonymous findings removed from daily life. As a fellow Nevadan, and as the Senate Majority Leader, I know that millions like you are struggling with the reality of America's health care crisis. 

            Amid our health care crisis, however, I believe there are opportunities for members of Congress, the President and his Administration, the private sector, and other stakeholders to work together for the benefit of the American people. It is my hope that the solutions we develop and enact will ensure quality, affordable health care coverage for all Americans-regardless of their age, income, employment, or health status.  I share your dismay about the state of health care in this country, and as we work toward comprehensive reform, I am also mindful of minimizing disruptions for those fortunate enough to have good coverage.  Therefore, I believe that if you prefer the coverage you have, you should be able to keep it.  I also support the creation of a public option that would keep the insurance companies honest and provide care that puts patients first.  Real reform will also eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions, guarantee coverage to everyone regardless of health status or gender, and strictly limit age rating. 

During the 111th session of Congress, we have already made significant improvements to our healthcare and public health systems.  For example, in February we passed an expansion and extension of the vital Children's Health Insurance Program (P.L. 111-3), known as Nevada Check Up in our state.  This legislation will expand coverage to an additional 4.1 million low-income children across our country. I am also pleased that as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5), billions of dollars have been allocated for health information technology, the National Institute of Health for research and development, and for prevention and wellness programs.  In addition, the federal matching payments for state Medicaid programs have been increased, and a temporary subsidy for COBRA premiums has been implemented to help ease the burden for hard-working families affected by the economic crisis.  Finally, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (P.L. 111-31) was signed into law by President Obama on June 22, 2009.  This legislation, which I cosponsored, gives the FDA the legal authority necessary to reduce youth smoking, prevent the sale of tobacco to minors, help current smokers quit, reduce the toxicity of tobacco products, and stop the tobacco industry from misleading the public with their understated claims about the dangers of using tobacco products. 
We have taken the first steps in a long, arduous journey towards reform, and there is still much more to be done.  Please know that as we move forward, I will keep your ideas and concerns in mind.  It is my hope that we can make affordable, comprehensive health coverage areality for so many Americans who are currently struggling to pay their medical bills, and make ends meet.  In the meantime, you can track this and other legislation at

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. For more information about my work for Nevada, my role in the United States Senate Leadership, or to subscribe to regular e-mail updates on the issues that interest you, please visit my Web site at I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

My best wishes to you.


United States Senator

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