Olympia Snowe's Strange Definition of 'Mainstream'

Sen. Olympia Snowe's (R-Maine) opinions on health care policy have taken on quite a bit of significance in recent months. That's a shame.


Today, for example, she was asked for her opinion on the House reform bill, which may get a vote in just 48 hours. "I do not know what world they live in," Snowe said, apparently in reference to House Democrats. "But all I know is it is totally detached from the average person, the average business owner who is struggling to keep their doors open and to have that level of taxation is breathtaking in its dimensions. I just think it is so out of proportion with reality and with mainstream America that it is hard to believe, frankly."

Perhaps Snowe went into more substantive detail -- explaining, for example, what she considers "mainstream" -- but I haven't seen additional reporting. She just seems to think the House bill is some kind of outrageous disaster.

It's possible Snowe just doesn't know what's in the House bill, because her assessment is wrong.

The health-care reform bills emerging from the House and Senate, when melded and enacted, will constitute an epochal achievement: the near-universal provision of medical care to the American people. But the House version is clearly the more epochal, as the health coverage it provides is more universal, chiefly because it's more affordable.

For families who buy their insurance on the exchanges that both bills establish, for instance, the House bill includes more generous subsidies -- on average, $1,000 more, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The House bill also offers a lot more assistance to Medicare recipients by reducing the cost of their prescriptions. While the bill that emerged from the Senate Finance Committee renews the Bush administration's mega-bucks gift to the drug companies by continuing to prohibit Medicare from negotiating drug prices with them, the House bill authorizes those negotiations. The Senate bill reduces by half the payments that Medicare recipients must make for prescription drugs that fall into the "doughnut hole" (annual drug expenses are covered up to $2,700, and coverage kicks in again at $6,100, but for all purchases in between, Medicarians are on their own). The House bill would cover all prescription purchases by 2019.

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