Weekly Pulse: The Bill the House Built


The House Democrats unveiled their eagerly anticipated healthcare bill
on Tuesday. That’s right, three key committees managed to agree on a
single bill. Beltway insiders think this show of unity is a big deal.
But remember, the House Dems can be expected to pass whatever
legislation is put in front of them because they have a healthy
majority and no filibuster. The real challenge is getting the bill
through the Senate.

The House bill would create an insurance exchange where the
self-employed and small employers could order off a "menu" featuring a
public plan and various private options. The hope is that insurance
companies would offer better rates in order to put their plan on the
national menu. Private options would also compete against the public
plan.

Healthcare reform could look very different by the time the Senate
gets through with it, but that’s not slowing down the prognosticators.
In the Prospect, Dana Goldstein considers what the new bill might mean for reproductive healthcare.
One of the most important questions is whether the public option will
cover abortions. Under the new bill, an independent medical commission
would decide what’s covered, so abortion wouldn’t become a political
football. Goldstein calls this a victory for reproductive rights.

Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo reports that the progressive Healthcare for America Now supports the House healthcare reform bill.

Feministing’s Miriam Zoila Pérez has an update on the newly-appointed surgeon general, Regina Benjamin.
Benjamin, an African American from Alabama, has as strong background in
clinical medicine and rural healthcare. Like so many of Obama’s
nominees, Dr. Benjamin has an engaging personal story.  She’s the past
president of the American Medical Association, and the recipient of a McArthur Genius Grant for her work on rural healthcare.

But after Hurricane Katrina, Benjamin bartered with patients who
couldn’t pay cash, exchanging checkups for oysters and homemade
goodies. A former colleague told the New York Times that she routinely
prescribed birth control, but that the clinic didn’t have abortion
facilities. As Steve Benen notes in the Washington Monthly, Benjamin’s track record of working with the poor and the uninsured
sets her apart from early favorite Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and
chief medical correspondent for CNN. The job of the Surgeon General is
largely symbolic. Obama may be hoping that Benjamin’s record of
altruism will lend credibility to the administration’s call to doctors
to temper their self-interests in the name of the public good.

Phillip Longman argues in the Washington Monthly that open source code
could make the difference between a triumph and a boondoggle in the
race to digitize America’s health records. Longman contrasts two
hospitals, one which used open-source code and another that chose a
closed, copyrighted program. The former could be modified and improved
by tech-savvy doctors and nurses who actually used the software, so it
got steadily better. The latter, an expensive solution devised by a
private contractor, started bad and stayed that way. Unfortunately,
according to Longman, the Obama administration is leaning towards the
closed option.

And finally, Terry Allen of In These Times reports on the massive homeopathy FAIL
that robbed untold numbers of people of their sense of smell. A
zinc-containing preparation called Zicam was marketed as a homeopathic
cold remedy. The FDA doesn’t require homeopathic remedies to be tested
for safety and efficacy. Homeopathic tinctures are generally so heavily
diluted as to no traces of the ostensible active ingredient. However,
Zicam contained enough zinc to damage the olfactory nerves.

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