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Senate health care bill filled with perks

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - 10:52am

The most intriguing mystery of the Senate's health bill was on page 328 of the final package of amendments assembled by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., under a subject heading innocuously titled "infrastructure to expand access to care."

It is a provision that grants $100 million to a single unnamed "health care facility," located in an unidentified state. The only clues to the beneficiary: The facility must be affiliated with an academic health center that houses the only public dental and medical school in the state.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., requested the provision, hoping that the University of Connecticut would win the money, a spokesman confirmed. But at least 11 other institutions nationwide seem to fit the criteria and could also apply for the grant.

Whichever institution wins will be one of the lucky beneficiaries of the horse-trading Reid was forced to conduct in order to secure 60 votes for the $871 billion bill. In his 383-page manager's amendment are scores of provisions that benefit only a handful of states, or in some cases a single state, or in the case of the hospital provision, a single institution.

The result is a bill that does not treat all areas of the country equally, something that Republicans loudly denounced — though they legislated in similar ways when they controlled Congress earlier this decade.

"The taxpayers of Kentucky are not excited, not at all excited, about having to underwrite the special deals that were apparently made for Nebraska, Vermont, and, we now learn, maybe Massachusetts," Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said at a news conference Sunday. He referred specifically to provisions of the bill that would provide extra federal Medicaid payments totaling $1.2 billion over the next decade to those three states.

Reid and his aides have been relatively open about the deals he struck with individual Democrats.

"You will find a number of states are treated differently than other states," Reid said Dec. 19. "That's what legislation is all about. It's compromise."