By Alexander Bolton - 08/02/09 05:39 PM EDT
Hatch also told The Hill in a Friday interview he would be “shocked” if Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) sign onto a healthcare deal with Democrats given the current trajectory of the legislation.
Grassley, who has spent up to six hours a day locked in a room with Baucus negotiating healthcare reform, has already slowed down the pace of talks.
“It’ll be a lost opportunity if Democratic leaders in Congress and the administration force action on healthcare legislation that’s not ready because of the complexity of the issue and the high stakes in getting it right,” Grassley said in a statement Thursday.
Hatch was one of a handful of Republicans involved in negotiations with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) before dropping out two weeks ago.
The senior Utah lawmaker said no single disagreement prompted him to pull out of the talks but that he arrived at his decision to disengage “gradually.”
“I think Baucus could negotiate a good deal but they won’t let him, he’s constrained,” Hatch said of pressure on Baucus from President Barack Obama, Democratic leaders and liberal members of the Senate caucus.
“The Democrats want a public option and they’re going to have a public option in the final bill,” Hatch said in reference to a proposal to create a broad government-run insurance program. He predicted that even if Baucus manages to pass a healthcare reform package with a membership-run co-op insurance plan instead of a government-run program, he would lose out to liberals in negotiations between the Senate and House.
“He’ll be crushed in the middle,” Hatch said of prospective Senate-House negotiations, adding that Democrats are intent on creating a system of “socialized medicine” in the United States.
Hatch pointed to what he considered major problems with Democratic healthcare reform proposals:
· They make no effort to curtail medical malpractice lawsuits, which Republicans claim cost $100 billion a year.
· Pending legislation could result in drastic cuts in Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals. Hatch said that doctors could see their reimbursements go down 25 percent and hospitals could see a 35 percent drop.
“The real problem is their ideas are out of this world,” he said of the Democrats’ healthcare proposals. “They’re saying they’re going to get $400-plus billion out of Medicare and Medicare is in debt right now.
“They’re going to pay doctors 25 percent less and going to pay hospitals 35 percent less and they think that system is going to work.”
A reform plan put together by House Democrats calls for $500 billion in Medicare cuts over the next decade to help pay for the cost of covering about 45 million Americans currently without healthcare insurance.
But this does not sit well with Republicans and conservative Democrats given Medicare’s projected insolvency within the next decade.
In May the Obama administration announced that Medicare is running out of funding faster than projected. Obama administration officials predict that Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will become exhausted by 2017.
Defenders of the House healthcare bill say the legislation would reinvest nearly $300 billion back into Medicare to increase payments to doctors. But that would still result in a net reduction of about $200 billion, which would be used to pay for expanded insurance coverage.
Hatch’s strong opposition is a troubling sign for Democrats because he has been party to some of the biggest healthcare bills to pass Congress in recent year.
He joined with Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1997 to create the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover the kids of working-class parents who did not qualify for Medicaid.
Hatch also teamed up with Democrats to pass legislation expanding stem cell research in 2007, one of the first priorities of Democrats after they regained control of Congress.
Before the Democratic take-over, Hatch sided with Democrats in pressing former President George W. Bush to accept legislation that would have expanded SCHIP by $35 million over five years. Bush vetoed the legislation.
Hatch voted against an expansion of SCHIP when it came up for another vote earlier this year because Democrats rewrote the bill and excluded him from having input. Hatch said the version that passed in January made “a mockery of the original intent by expanding CHIP to cover people for whom the program was never intended.” The bill expanded health coverage in some parts of the country to the children of families earning up to $88,000.