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Weekly Pulse: A timetable for reform

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By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire blogger

Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) have set a timetable for healthcare reform by this fall--a major step on the road to passing legislation this year. The Senators' plan, set out in a letter to President Obama, calls for a bill by June, committee markups over the summer, and a final vote in the fall. (Just in time for delayed-action budget reconciliation, should the Republicans prove recalcitrant.)

As Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes, timetables matter, politically. Furthermore, as Ezra Klein explains at TAPPED, a pact between Baucus and Kennedy is a big step forward: these two key committee chairs NOW have a plan to avoid the turf wars that stymied reform in 1994. This time, the two Senators have pledged to work together to write similar bills, instead having their respective committees very different legislation, like they did last time.

Experts agree that successful healthcare reform must work on two fronts: Paying for care while simultaneously keeping the cost of care in check. Elsewhere on TAPPED, Klein discusses why American healthcare costs so much compared to other countries. He points to a study by the famous McKinsey consulting company showing that the extra cost is not because we're sicker, nor because we consume more healthcare:

"The answer, in the end, is that we're getting a bad deal. You know how when you go shopping you look for sales? America sort of does the opposite of that. We pay more for each unit of care, more for health system operations, and more for health system administration. McKinsey found that 'input costs—including doctors’ and nurses’ salaries, drugs, devices, and other medical supplies, and the profits of private participants in the system—explain the largest portion of high additional spending, accounting for $281 billion of spending above US [Estimated Spending According to Wealth]. Inefficiencies and complexity in the system’s operational processes and structure account for the second largest spend above ESAW of $147 billion. Finally, administration, regulation, and intermediation of the system cost another $98 billion in additional spending.'"

Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center outlines what's at stake for women in the healthcare reform debate at RH Reality Check. She writes:

"In our broken health care system, nearly one in five women is uninsured. Even for those who have health insurance, women are more likely than men to have health coverage that has too many gaps, including large co-pays, life-time limits, and exclusions or limitations in needed services like mental health care or prescription drugs. Since women, on average, have lower incomes than men, they are at particular risk of financial barriers to care; one in four women says that she is unable to pay her medical bills, and women are more likely than men to delay or go without needed health care because of cost."

Speaking of raw deals, Martha Rosenberg describes how big pharma distorts science to get approval for yet more drugs of questionable safety and efficacy in AlterNet. Rosenberg notes that the Justice Department is cracking down on AstraZeneca and Forest Laboratories for hiding key scientific evidence that called the safety of their products into question.

What pharmaceutical companies aren't dumping onto the market, they're dumping into the water supply, according Lauren Kirchner of Air America Radio: 271 million pounds of drugs, from antibiotics to tranquilizers, have been legally dumped into the U.S. water supply over the past 20 years.

The Vatican keeps nixing Barack Obama's picks for ambassador to Vatican City for being pro-choice, according to the American Forum. Carolyn Kennedy was a front-runner until she was disqualified for being personally pro-choice. I would note that there's something of a Catch-22 here. Minor ambassadorships are, after all, rewards for big time political backers. The only reason anyone is in line for this job is because they helped the pro-choice Barack Obama get elected, so this could take a while....

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