by Lindsay Beyerstein, TPM MediaWire Blogger

Last Thursday, the House and Senate passed budgets for fiscal year 2010. The House version of the budget includes critical language that could open the door for healthcare reform in 2009–and not a moment too soon. Unemployment is skyrocketing, increasing numbers of Americans are going without health insurance, and Democrats are looking to pass healthcare fast.

In the American Prospect, Ezra Klein explains three ways that budget reconciliation could be used to fast-track healthcare reform by bypassing a filibuster in the Senate, allowing reform to pass with a simple majority vote. The three options are: regular reconciliation, delayed-onset, and do-over. Klein thinks there’s a real chance that the delayed-onset or do-over reconciliation options could work. Delayed-onset reconciliation would kick in only if the Democrats and the Republicans haven’t passed a healthcare bill by a certain date. Do-over reconciliation would be based on a gentleman’s agreement between the chairs of the House and the Senate budget committees to pass budget amendments if the two parties can’t agree on a healthcare reform package within a certain amount of time.

Evidence continues to mount that minorities are especially burdened by our dysfunctional healthcare system. Public News Service reports that lack of health insurance is becoming an epidemic in Michigan, that 28% of Ohioans under the age of 65 were uninsured between 2007 and 2008, and that minorities are still aren’t getting fair access in Massachusetts, despite attempts at reform. New America Media points to yet another alarming study from the University of Chicago on race and health disparities in Illinois:

“More than half the whites in Illinois consider themselves in excellent health, compared with 42.9% of African Americans and only 28.4% of Latinos. Meanwhile, 84.7% of whites have a primary health provider, compared with 77.3% of African Americans and 62.9% of Latinos, and the percentages are almost the same when it comes to access to health insurance, reports La Raza.”

In other news, personal responsibility takes a back seat to the war on drugs in Virginia. At, Miriam Perez discusses the case of a Virginia teenager who was suspended from school because she was seen taking her birth control pill during lunch hour. Never mind that her doctor had prescribed the medication with the knowledge of her mother. It’s disappointing news on the 55th anniversary of the birth control pill. I guess they missed the memo that preventative reproductive healthcare pays off. If you need more proof, check out the latest study, covered in RH Reality Check by Emilie Ailts.

James Ridgeway of Mother Jones asks whether Obama’s FDA will be a watchdog or a lapdog when it comes to regulating Big Pharma. Under Bush the FDA became little more than a marketing arm of the drug and medical device industry. Ridgeway wonders whether the regulator agency will regain its authority and dignity in the new administration.

Finally, some news from the intersection of healthcare and human rights. Adam Serwer of TAPPED and Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly react to the news that doctors oversaw the torture of prisoners at CIA black sites. “Torture isn’t acceptable, no matter who’s inflicting the pain or coming up with legal rationalizations for it. But there’s something uniquely offensive about medical professionals who were directly involved with the torture of detainees at CIA secret prisons,” Benen writes.

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