Baucus Unveils Long-Awaited Health Care Reform Proposal
This morning, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) formally released the committee's health reform bill, which would extend health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured residents and cost an estimated $856 billion over 10 years, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The bill replaces a public plan with a network of not-for-profit health cooperatives. According to the Journal, the legislation would create a national insurance exchange, through which individuals and small businesses could purchase coverage.
The bill also would require all U.S. residents to obtain health coverage, while providing tax credits for low-income U.S. residents.
It would also prohibit health insurers from denying coverage to U.S. residents with pre-existing conditions.Â The bill includes other consumer protections (Hitt, Wall Street Journal, 9/16).
The proposal, which previously had been estimated to cost about $880 billion over 10 years, would implement industry fees and taxes on the highest-priced health care plans to generate funds and prevent it from adding to the federal deficit, among other levies.
On Tuesday the Finance Committee's "Gang of Six" bipartisan negotiators failed to reach a final agreement on the bill, Roll Call reports.
However, after the meeting, Baucus said he would release the draft bill the next day.
Members of the Gang of Six pledged to continue working toward a consensus ahead of the bill's scheduled markup next week (Drucker, Roll Call, 9/16).
Baucus said, "We're continuing to meet -- keep discussing, keep negotiating," adding that the markup of the bill would begin on Sept. 22 (Drucker ,Roll Call, 9/15).
Bill Draws Fire From Democrats, Republicans
Before Baucus released the bill on Wednesday, the legislation drew strong criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, the New York Times reports.
Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) was the first Democrat to publicly declare his opposition, which he said is based on its omission of a public option (Pear/Herszenhorn, New York Times, 9/16). Rockefeller, who is not part of the six-member negotiating group, added that he opposes the proposed taxes on the so-called "Cadillac" health plans. "There is no way in its present form that I will vote for [the bill]," he said (Whitesides/Smith, Reuters, 9/15).
According to Politico, several other Democratic senators have voiced their disapproval -- publicly, and privately to Baucus and the Finance Committee -- of some of the bill's proposals.
- Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) criticized a proposal that would prevent documented immigrants from receiving federal subsidies to obtain health coverage for five years and prohibit undocumented immigrants from purchasing coverage at full cost from a proposed health insurance exchange.
- Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) voiced objection to a proposal that would levy billions of dollars in annual fees on medical device manufacturers, insurance companies and other industries.
- Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) criticized a plan to eliminate Medicare payments to private insurers that operate Medicare Advantage plans, which he believes would have a negative impact on seniors (Budoff Brown, Politico, 9/16).
Meanwhile, in a statement released on Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) -- one of the three Republican members on the Gang of Six -- said he would not support the bill, CongressDaily reports.
Grassley cited various reasons for his decision, including his displeasure with the timeline that Senate Democrats and the White House have set for passing health reform legislation (Edney, CongressDaily, 9/16).
Grassley also said that the bill, in its present form, "does not meet the shared goals for affordable, accessible health coverage," adding that he believes it would fail to address federal funding for abortion services and existing language on medical malpractice laws, among other outstanding issues.
However, he echoed the negotiating group's commitment to continuing talks for a bipartisan deal. "We've been clear from the start that we're willing to stay at the table," adding, "There's no reason not to keep working until we get it right. In the end, legislation that impacts every American should have strong bipartisan support" (Budoff Brown, Politico, 9/15).
Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), another member ofÂ the Gang of Six, declined to endorse the bill or indicate whether he would support the legislation at a later stage (CongressDaily, 9/16).
Snowe Withholds Immediate Support for Bill, Knows Her Importance
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) on Tuesday said that although she is not immediately endorsing the bill, it does not mean that she would vote against it later, Roll Call reports.
She added that her comfort level with the bill could rise once additional scores and analyses of the bill are released (Drucker , Roll Call, 9/15). Snowe acknowledged that her main concerns were about the bill's cost, adding, "I'm not sure they can be addressed before [Baucus] issues [the bill]" (Bolton/Young, The Hill, 9/15).
According to Politico, Snowe is the most likely Republican to support health reform legislation and as a result she might "hold the key to [President Obama's] health care agenda," which is "starting to make top Senate Republicans nervous."
While both Republicans and Democrats "understand the importance of Snowe's decision" to support or oppose reform legislation, Snowe is aware and willing to take the "political heat" from her party if she opts to break from them, Politico reports (Raju, Politico, 9/16).
Finance Republicans To Develop 'Strategy' for Bill Markup
According to Roll Call, Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee are developing a "strategy" for the bill's markup, scheduled for Sept. 22.
Roll Call reports that Grassley, Enzi and Snowe will not participate in the strategy sessions, which indicates their commitment to bipartisan negotiations (Roll Call, 9/16).
Reid Lays Out Agenda
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a special Democratic Caucus meeting on Thursday to allow Baucus to promote the bill and other Democrats to seek answers to their questions about the measure, CQ Today reports.
Reid said, "I am satisfied with the Finance bill, and we're going to do our very best to have a bipartisan bill out of the Finance Committee," adding, "If not, then we'll have to have a partisan bill out of the Finance Committee" (Armstrong/Hunter, CQ Today, 9/15).
Reid also said that he intends to direct the consolidation of the Finance Committee's bill and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's bill into a single chamber bill for floor vote. He added that Democrats' still have the option to invoke budget reconciliation, which would allow them to pass legislation with a 51-vote majority (Roll Call, 9/16).
Reid also said he expects that a final Senate reform bill will reach the chamber floor by Sept. 28 (Pierce, Roll Call, 9/15). However, he warned his colleagues on Tuesday that they might have to forgo their Columbus Day recess in October -- a weeklong legislative break that is expected to commence Oct. 12 this year -- to ensure that they can clear a backlog of legislative work, Roll Call reports (Brady, Roll Call, 9/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.