Conservative Democrats’ Complaints Delay House Health Reform Plan
House leaders delayed plans to release health reform legislation for markup on Friday after a letter signed by 40 members of the House Blue Dog Coalition demanded that health reform legislation do more to rein in costs, the AP/Google reports.
Concerns From Blue Dog Coalition
The letter stated that the group, composed of fiscally conservative Democrats, believes the expected House bill "lacks a number of elements essential to preserving what works and fixing what is broken" in the U.S. health system (Espo/Werner, AP/Google, 7/10). The letter also stated that the reform bill "must start with finding savings within the current delivery system and maximizing the value of our health care dollar before we pay more."
Blue Dogs wrote that they want changes to the way a new public insurance plan would pay health care providers; increased protections for smaller businesses against a proposed employer coverage mandate; and more support for rural health care services (Armstrong/Wayne, CQ HealthBeat, 7/9). The Blue Dogs' greatest opposition was directed at proposals for a new public plan to use Medicare reimbursement rates, Roll Call reports.
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the group's chair, said, "We cannot accept a public plan based on Medicare rates," adding that those levels would be too low in many geographic areas. He said, "We are losing doctors," adding, "We could give people a real shiny insurance card but that's not going to matter if they don't have access" (Dennis/Newmeyer, Roll Call, 7/9).
Ross also saidÂ that the group's overall push is to ensure that cost remains a high priority in a House bill. He said, "Some people are getting confused and believing that the primary purpose behind health care reform is making health care affordable and accessible for everyone, which is certainly something we all want to accomplish," but the "Blue Dog Coalition talks about health care reform in the context of cost containment" (Werner, AP/Chicago Tribune, 7/10).
He noted that the group has not taken a position on a surtax on high-income individuals proposed by House Democrats on Thursday.
Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) said, "We've had ongoing conversations; and yet, then when they're going to unroll something, that input from Blue Dogs wasn't in it" (CQ Today, 7/9).
Response from House Leaders
After releasing the letter on Thursday night, members of the group met with House leadership, who agreed to devote Friday to talking with Blue Dogs and said that the chamber's reform bill would be released Monday at the earliest (AP/Chicago Tribune, 7/10).
Ross said that his group would prefer to work out their differences before the bill goes to markup and that additional concerns could be addressed through amendments proposed in committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "I promised the president that we would have legislation out of the House before we went on an August break," and "[t]hat is still my goal" (Haberkorn/Miller, Washington Times, 7/10).
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) after the meeting with Blue Dog members said, "Let me make it very clear that everybody in that room thinks we ought to pass health care reform" (AP/Chicago Tribune, 7/10).
Letter in Support of Public Plan
Another letter sent to House leadership Thursday -- signed by 20 members of the New Democrats, two Blue Dogs and three lawmakers who belong to both groups -- expressed support for a "robust" public plan that utilizes the Medicare provider network but allows providers to opt out of the new plan.
New Democrat member Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) said, "We have a broader coalition to pass this than what was assumed before," adding, "While we may belong to a more moderate branch, we want it known that we support the public option" (Soraghan, The Hill, 7/9).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.