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Lieberman Now On Board?

After Senate Democratic leaders agreed to drop the Medicare buy-in for those 55 and older, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) appears ready to support the Democratic health care reform package. Here is a statement the senator released today regarding his past statements on the Medicare buy-in -- of which he appeared to support just months ago, though he is now against -- and how he sees the future of the bill:

"I am encouraged that progress has been made toward passing health care reform legislation in the Senate in the very near future. As I have said all along, health care legislation must expand coverage, contain costs, reform the way health care is delivered, and impose consumer protection regulations on the health insurance industry. While I objected to some provisions that I believed would unnecessarily add to the national debt, raise taxes, or endanger the fiscal solvency of the Medicare program, there is much that is needed and worthy in the core bill that I support.

"There has been some misunderstanding about my past position on the Medicare buy-in proposal, which I would like to clarify. I have long been concerned about making health care more accessible and affordable. One idea that has been discussed for years is expanding Medicare to people younger than 65. For example, the Medicare buy-in proposal was part of the Gore/Lieberman platform in 2000, but in 2000 our nation's budget was balanced, debt levels were less than half current levels, Medicare was not on the verge of insolvency, and there was no viable proposal like the one we are debating today to provide affordable coverage to more than 30 million Americans who currently lack health insurance, including people 55 to 65.

"My comments reported by the Connecticut Post in September were related to past ideas for health care reform I have considered or supported, and were made before we had a bill for consideration on the Senate floor that contains extensive health insurance reforms, including limiting how much more insurance companies could charge individuals based on age and providing subsidies that would specifically help people between the ages of 55 and 65 to afford health insurance.

"Any inclusion of a Medicare buy-in for that same age group would be duplicative of what is already in the bill, would put the government on the hook for billions of additional dollars that are not paid for, and would potentially threaten the solvency of Medicare, which is already in a perilous state. I also had concerns that this provision would result in cost-shifting that would drive up premiums for the 180 million Americans who now have insurance.

"The process to reach agreement on a bill has often been difficult, but I sense we are now taking significant steps forward to obtain 60 votes on the Senate floor. I look forward to passing a bill that will give the American people genuine health care reform without impeding our recovery from the current recession or adding to our exploding national debt."