Dec 17, 2009 10:23 AM by Associated Press

Letters ask Landrieu to oppose Senate bill

WASHINGTON - One day after U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu committed to supporting the Senate health-care bill, 14 Louisiana chambers of commerce and trade associations sent her a letter Wednesday asking her to change her mind.

Meanwhile, the White House and U.S. Senate Democrats are continuing to try to woo U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. to become the 60th supporter of President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul. Sixty votes are needed to overcome a Republican filibuster and pass the legislation.

In general, the overall legislation is designed to spread coverage to millions who lack it, ban insurance industry practices such as denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions, and slow the rate of growth of medical spending nationally.

Republicans are unanimously opposed, and accuse Democrats of seeking deep cuts in Medicare and higher taxes to create a new benefit program that they argue gives government too large a role in the health-care system.

Led by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana chambers and trade associations congratulated Landrieu for securing about $300 million for state government but expressed concerns about how the Democrats' health-care legislation would impact the state budget.

The measure, which includes money for Louisiana's Medicaid program, also would expand the program that covers the poor and uninsured, which could cost the state $130 million more a year, the groups argued in a letter sent Tuesday to Landrieu and the press.

In addition, the state is facing a $400 million shortfall in federal money toward hospitals covering the uninsured, the letter states.

"Between the two of them, you can have a $500 million impact down the road," LABI President Dan Juneau said Wednesday. "What they're doing is throwing things up against the wall and seeing what sticks and calling it health-care reform."

Landrieu declined to comment Wednesday, saying she didn't want to address the matter through the news media. She is preparing a response letter to LABI, her spokesman, Aaron Saunders, said.

Landrieu received support from the Louisiana Consumer Healthcare Coalition, a citizen group started last year to focus on health care in the state. Approval of the Senate health-care bill would insure more than 500,000 new people in Louisiana, said Morika Karamoko, leader of the group.

Karamoko contends the bill would break up insurance monopolies. In Lafayette, two companies control almost 80 percent of the insured, he said. Competition would help keep insurance costs down.

"We were glad to see her come on board," Karamoko said. "The bill is good for Louisiana."

Also sending a letter to Landrieu Wednesday was the Louisiana Association of Health Plans. Health insurance premiums for families and employers would likely increase significantly if the Senate bill passes, said Gil Dupre, chief executive officer of the organization.

"We know Senator Landrieu is under a lot of pressure from the leadership in Washington," Dupre said. "But we tried to point out to her that some of the people in Louisiana are going to be harmed through higher premiums."

Though Landrieu has committed to the bill, Dupre said it is important for groups to voice their concerns.

"Until the votes are cast, it's not too late to change anything," Dupre said.

The debate over the proper role for the government has bedeviled the issue from the outset.

At the behest of liberal Democrats, the House bill establishes a nationwide government-run insurance option in hopes of creating competition for private insurers.

In the Senate, moderates refused to support anything similar, with Nelson balking even at standby authority for the government in case efforts failed in their attempt to entice private companies to become more competitive.

Instead, the Senate measure is likely to call for development of nonprofit private plans to be overseen by the Office of Personnel Management, the agency that supervises the system that federal employees and lawmakers use to get coverage.

The compromises to the Senate bill have union leaders reassessing whether they should continue to offer support publicly for the measure.

The politically powerful Service Employees International Union backed out of a Wednesday news conference at which it and other groups - including the AARP - planned to promote the bill. Instead, the union's executive board met to discuss concerns about the plan's lack of a public option and the Senate's decision to remove a Medicare buy-in alternative.

"We're looking at what we need for the reform bill to be something that we can probably support," SEIU spokeswoman Lori Lodes said.

Associated Press



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