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Friday, October 2, 2009

Sherrod Brown pushes harder for public option while George Voinovich warns of "gag order"

Was hoping not to have to post and have a nice weekend, but this story was just posted on:


and we felt it was too important to let go by.

Time to step up the calls/emails/letters OHIO!

Sherrod Brown pushes harder for public option while George Voinovich warns of "gag order"
By Stephen Koff, The Plain Dealer
October 02, 2009, 6:05PM

With Sabrina Eaton

Washington, D.C. -- Ohio's two U.S. senators re-entered the health care debate Friday, as usual from different perspectives, with Democrat Sherrod Brown petitioning colleagues to include a government insurance option while Republican George Voinovich said he worried about benefit cuts to seniors.

Brown is seeking other senators' signatures for a letter he'll give to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid next week. "We are concerned that -- absent a competitive and continuous public insurance option -- health reform legislation will not produce nationwide access and ongoing cost containment," the letter says. "For that reason, we are asking for your leadership on ensuring that the merged health reform bill contains a public insurance option."

Voinovich voiced concern about a different aspect of the proposed health care package, which would save money in part by ending extra payments the government gives to private insurance plans for covering health care for senior citizens.

About a quarter of the nation's seniors are in these plans, called Medicare Advantage, and the plans get more taxpayer money than traditional Medicare pays its providers. In turn, Advantage plans often provide additional services such as vision or dental care. Some insurers say they might have to cut services or go out of business if the government pares back its subsidies. Dueling government studies and testimony suggest that both sides could be right -- that Advantage plans are not as cost-effective for taxpayers as Congress originally planned, but that the plans might pare back services if cut.

Humana, Inc., a leading insurer, recently advised its Advantage patients to contact lawmakers to state their concerns about potential cuts. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in turn told providers to stop sending communications that could mislead seniors.

"Seniors on Medicare should not be subjected to misleading information about their Medicare benefits," HHS' Nick Papas told the Associated Press. He said that "certain communications from a major insurance company" may have violated regulations.

Voinovich on Friday joined the complaints of other Republican lawmakers, some of whom have vowed to hold up nominations of President Barack Obama's health nominees because of what they say is a gag order on insurers.

"I don't see how Medicare's 'gag order' helps seniors," Voinovich said. "Over the past several weeks, I have talked to many Ohio seniors who are very happy with their Medicare Advantage coverage and who deserve to know if the benefits they are currently receiving are going to disappear. The way I see it, this is a violation of First Amendment rights, and I hope that the Secretary will consider reversing the Department's decision."

Also on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Moreland Hills, Ohio, to help Democrats raise money for upcoming congressional elections. She told The Plain Dealer in a telephone interview that she expects the final health care package to include a public insurance option.

"We will have a bill that lowers costs, improves quality, expands coverage and retains choice," Pelosi said. "If you like what you have, you can keep it. That can only happen if we pass this bill. The current system is unsustainable."

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