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Wednesday, Apr 15, 2009, 8:31 am

Weekly Pulse: Signs of Hope in the Senate

By Lindsay Beyerstein
Of all the hurdles facing healthcare reform in 2009, the U.S. Senate is arguably the most formidable. But the prospects for passing a healthcare bill this year have brightened noticeably over the past few days, thanks to a senate seat pickup in Minnesota, solidifying support for the budget reconciliation strategy, and tentative overtures towards bipartisanship from key Republicans.

A three-judge panel declared Democrat Al Franken the winner of the Minnesota senate race. We don't have a firm date for seating Franken, but Harry Reid said to be looking forward to it in the near future. Franken is an outspoken advocate for healthcare reform and favors expanding the public insurance system to cover more people.

Sen. Kristin Gillibrand, D-N.Y., spoke out in favor of passing healthcare reform through the budget reconciliation process this week, as Public News Service reports. Gilibrand is the latest in a string of Democratic legislators to support the reconciliation process, which would allow the Senate to circumvent a
filibuster and pass legislation with simple majority vote.

Some Republicans might even be willing to work with the Democrats on healthcare reform. Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is hinting that she might be willing to cooperate with Democrats, Steve Benen writes in the Washington Monthly. And according to Public News Service, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is expected to work closely with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. on healthcare reform legislation: "I think [Grassley] and Senator Max Baucus of Montana are really the champions of bi-partisanship in this whole debate. I think that in order for us to get an effective piece of legislation it's going to have to be bi-partisan," Lee Hammond, president-elect of the AARP national board, told Public News Service at a healthcare forum attended by Grassley.

A personal essay in The Nation underscores how badly healthcare reform is needed: Medical bills are threatening to tear Kate Michelman's family apart. First, her uninsured adult daughter was paralyzed in a horseback riding accident. Then her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Eventually Michelman couldn't afford to keep her husband in a nursing facility, so she brought him home, which means she's unable to work. The irony is that she thought that her husband had good health insurance plus long-term care insurance, and relatively speaking, he did--it just wasn't enough to keep his family from being bankrupted by a major illness.

For all the good news coming out of the Senate, the private insurance industry won't go down with out a fight. James Ridgeway of Mother Jones reports that insurance companies that provide private Medicare coverage are holding elderly clients hostage in a battle with the government over subsidies. The government cut off the subsidy and the insurance companies sending out propaganda to their policy-holders threatening to raise premiums and urging them to lobby the government to reverse the subsidy, Ridgeway explains:

Actually, Universal American is trying to enlist more than just insurance agents in the struggle to hold on to their sweet deal. It's trying to bring Medicare Advantage subscribers and other ordinary old people into the fray, through a PR initiative misleadingly named The Coalition for Medicare Choices.

Finally, for a refreshing change of pace, The Nation tells the story of healthcare reform in photographs.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. And for the best progressive reporting on the ECONOMY, and IMMIGRATION, check out, Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.newsladder.net.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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