Daschle’s ‘Strong Hopes’ for Health Bills Fade
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said in an interview with the New York Times that his "strong hopes" for passing several health care bills this year have faded in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Daschle said that lawmakers may pass a mental health parity bill (S 543) that would require businesses that have more than 50 employees and offer mental health benefits to provide the same level of coverage for mental and physical health services. The legislation, which the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in August approved without opposition, last Wednesday "suddenly drew fire" from Republicans when Democrats -- "using the need for mental health counseling arising from the ... attacks as a springboard" -- tried to schedule debate on the bill for today. Some Republicans say that the bill will raise the cost of health insurance by too much. On the issue of patients' rights, Daschle said that before House and Senate negotiators could agree on a compromise between the two chambers' different bills, President Bush would have to "persuade" House Republicans -- whose version of the bill is closer to Bush's preference than is the Senate bill -- to "give ground." He said, "Both sides have dug in. It's very hard to see how it can be reconciled." Daschle added that prospects for a prescription drug benefit under Medicare also have fallen into the "'maybe' category or worse" (Clymer, New York Times, 9/30). Many Republicans and some Democrats have said that since Sept. 11, a drug benefit and other health issues "will need to be considered later" (Hotakainen/McKenzie, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/30). "I think our chances of getting a lot of [the Democratic agenda passed] are greatly diminished" since the attacks, Daschle said (New York Times, 9/30).