Senate Dems push healthcare to September

Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday made it official that health reform will have to wait until the fall to be considered by Congress’s upper chamber.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) told reporters they decided Wednesday night to put off a Senate vote until after the chamber reconvenes after Labor Day.

The Senate leaders said they hoped to send legislation to President Obama by the end of the year. They originally had hoped to send a final bill to the president in mid-October.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she was open to putting a vote off in that chamber until after the August recess.

That would mean neither chamber would meet its original goal of completing work on a bill before the August recess. The House is scheduled to adjourn a week from Friday; the Senate is scheduled to remain in Washington for one additional week.

“Working with Republicans, one of the things that they ask is for more time,” Reid said Thursday. “The decision was made to give them more time … I don’t think it’s unreasonable. This is a complex, difficult issue.”

Reid said he had spoken directly with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on the new deadlines.

He and other Senate leaders now hope to get a bill out of the Senate Finance Committee, merge it with legislation approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and get that combined bill to the Senate floor by the recess date.

Schumer dismissed the idea that the bill would lose momentum over the August recess, citing public demand for some type of change.

“The whole goal has always been to have the president sign it by the end of the year,” he said. “So the plan is going to be out there for a period of time, and it’s going to have to stand the test of the public as well. I’m not worried. It should be out there, and maybe the plan is modified.”

Schumer also dismissed the idea that Obama has mismanaged the effort to pass reform, saying that the plan remains “on track.”

“No one wants delay, but the president has done this just right,” Schumer said.  “We’re moving along in just the right way.”

The Democratic leaders also tried a personal touch Thursday to sell healthcare, sending two area women to tell their stories of health hardship to reporters.

Kathy Devincentis of Washington, a retired hospice nurse from Delaware and a breast-cancer survivor, told reporters she had to struggle to get insurance for chemotherapy treatments and faced costs of $1,000 per month and a $5,000 deductible.

“We really need to change this,” she said of the current health system.

Regina Holliday of Maryland, an art teacher whose 10-year-old son Freddy has autism, told of her husband’s death last month from kidney cancer that went undiagnosed because they could not afford insurance.

“Would access to affordable health insurance have made a difference in our case? I think so,” Holliday said. “If my husband could have seen a primary care doctor throughout the past 10 years, there would have been a very good chance his cancer could have been caught before it reached stage four.”

“Those who oppose reform like to talk about it in the abstract — they use code words, scare tactics and sound bites,” Reid said of the women’s stories. “Reforming healthcare is about real people.”