Commentary: Another close call for health care overhaul

Once again, the proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system defied the odds this past weekend and managed to overcome another obstacle as it moves ever so slowly through the legislative maze on Capitol Hill.

Supporters of reform are angry and frustrated over the hesitation of moderate Democrats like Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. They voted with the rest of the party and a couple of independents to allow debate on the bill and thus foil Republican efforts to kill the bill in its tracks, but they expressed serious misgivings about the "public option" and other provisions.

In the end, the vote was close -- 60 to 39, not a vote to spare -- but it was the right decision.

Reform backers should not be so quick to criticize the hesitant senators. By agreeing to clear the legislation for consideration on the floor, they opened the way for a historic debate that could produce a final bill within a month or two. Given the many times this bill has been pronounced DOA, that's a victory by any standard.

Unless there is a debate, as Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., pointed out, there is no opportunity to fix what is wrong with the nation's health care system. Ultimately, of course, the bill could fail. Sen. Lieberman and a few others are adamantly opposed to a "public option," while liberal Democrats insist there's no reform without it.

But while most of the attention over the past few weeks has been focused on Congress and the White House, the evidence has continued to accumulate that the current system needs to be changed.

The pharmaceutical industry, for instance, has raised the wholesale prices of brand-name prescription drugs by about 9 percent in the last year, the highest rate of increase in more than a decade.

The increase looks even worse compared to the 1.3 percent decline in the Consumer Price Index over the same period.

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