Expect Senate Health Bill To Change, Durbin Says
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
The historic health care overhaul plan proposed by Congressional Democrats makes its way to the Senate for a test vote tonight - a showdown between Republicans and a fragmented Democratic majority. Sixty votes are required to advance the bill toward full debate.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is the Majority Whip of the U.S. Senate. Whips are responsible for whipping up support. Senator Durbin joins us now from his office in the Capitol. Senator, thanks very much for being with us.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: Do you have 60 votes?
Sen. DURBIN: I think we're close. I don't want to assume a thing but we feel like we're close. And it's, you know, for several of these senators it's going to be a decision as they walk into the chamber. It's a hard vote for them to cast.
SIMON: Now, the House bill includes a public option, the Senate does too. But the public option in the Senate bill allows states to opt out. Does that help you win many votes?
Sen. DURBIN: I think it does. I think it moves us in the right direction. But I'll be honest with you - what we're asking senators to do is to just vote to give us a chance to start the debate. If they'll let us open the debate, then we can start working to find some mutual concessions and find an agreement.
SIMON: Senator Durbin, is it possible to extend health care to 31 million more Americans without restricting some of the ways in which they're going to be covered?
Sen. DURBIN: Well, I think the only restrictions will be if we acknowledge that when 30-plus million Americans have health insurance, there'll be more medical professionals needed. And we work on that. That's part of this bill. So initially I can see the need for more primary care physicians and family care physicians. But ultimately, these folks show up at the hospital when things go badly. They become very expensive and of course many of them don't recover as they should because they waited too long to see a doctor.
So ultimately, I think the system moves toward balance as more and more people have coverage.
SIMON: Now, as I don't have to tell you, the announcement this week that -recommendations by a panel about mammograms may not be necessary every year -seemed to fuel some fears among people that the administration will reduce health care costs by reducing procedures, even at the same time they say prevention is the key, because that - obviously concentrating on prevention might deter some medical costs down the road. Do you have any concerns about that?
Sen. DURBIN: I do, because I think people don't realize several things. First, that panel was created by the previous administration. Second, they're making a recommendation. And third, the vast majority of people I respect, including the Obama administration, reject this proposal.
When the American Cancer Society says this is a bad proposal, I think we ought to step back and say it probably is. And so what we need to acknowledge is that we can be more efficient and more quality oriented in health care, but everyone's recommendation isn't going to be the law of the land.
SIMON: Senator, what are you going to do about the controversy over abortion, the deep-seated convictions that people have on this issue as it relates to this bill?
Sen. DURBIN: Well, we're never going to resolve the differences within America in terms of the issue of abortion. In this bill, if it becomes a debate over that issue, it's really going to do a disservice to, you know, the major goal here, which is expanding health care.
And I think what we've come up with in the Senate is a reasonable position. First, we acknowledge the basic standards of the Hyde amendment - no public funds for any abortions except to save the life of the mother, rape or incest. Second, there is a very clear and strong conscience clause - no hospital, no doctor, no medical professional should perform an abortion if it violates their conscience.
And third, we try to find a way - and it's difficult - but find a way so that if there are insurance policies offered on an exchange, there are options -some policies cover abortion, some don't - and no public funds through this tax credit that we're offering to pay premiums would go toward the abortion procedures.
SIMON: President Obama has said he'd like a bill on his desk by the end of the year. Can you give him one?
Sen. DURBIN: I wish we could. And I think the president was right and I'm glad that he stuck with this. We wouldn't be here today without his leadership on it. If we can finish it by the end of the year, it would be great. But it's more likely in the early part of January.
SIMON: Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois speaking with us from his office. Thanks so much, Senator.
Sen. DURBIN: Thanks, Scott.
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