Senate Finance Chief Tweaks Bill Ahead of First Mark-Up Session
Today, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is expected to release a revised version of his committee's draft health reform bill, which he says should "help smooth the way for passage" through the panel and chamber, the New York Times reports (Pear/Herszenhorn, New York Times, 9/22).
The full Finance Committee is scheduled to begin its markup of the bill today.
According to Roll Call, Baucus spent Monday adjusting the bill to address many of the concerns and issues that his committee's members had raised in the 564 amendments they submitted last week (Drucker, Roll Call, 9/22).
At least 292 of the amendments came from Republicans, most of them proposals to eliminate the individual coverage mandate and fees on the health industry and allow coverage portability across states (Whitesides, Reuters, 9/22).
Revisions to the Proposal
Baucus' changes include:
- Reducing the proposed penalty on families that do not obtain health insurance coverage by 2013 (New York Times, 9/22). Under the proposal, households with incomes exceeding three times the federal poverty level would face the maximum fine of $3,800 annually (California Healthline, 9/9). Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a Finance Committee member, said that amount could be cut by half (New York Times, 9/22).
- Reducing the proposed 35% excise tax on the highest-priced insurance plans, which Baucus developed as the bill's primary source of revenue. Some Democrats criticized the proposal because it likely would affect people in high-risk professions, such as coal miners, firefighters and other public safety workers. The proposal also has been criticized because insurers could potentially pass on the cost of the tax to customers in the form of higher premiums (Murray/Montgomery, Washington Post, 9/22). Baucus said he likely would raise the threshold for when the tax would kick in. Under the current proposal, the tax would be levied on plans with annual premiums that exceed $8,000 for individuals or $21,000 for families.
- Increasing the proposed taxpayer-supported subsidies to help lower- to middle-income residents purchase coverage (New York Times, 9/22). Under Baucus' original framework, the tax credits would have been enacted on a sliding scale for residents whose incomes are up to 300% of the federal poverty level. U.S. residents whose incomes are 300% of FPL would have been required to spend at least 13% of their income on health insurance to qualify for the subsidies (California Healthline, 9/15). Baucus said he wanted to reduce the trigger level to less than 12% of an individual's income (New York Times, 9/22).
The changes would be financed with $28 billion of the $49 billion the Congressional Budget Office estimated the legislation would have reduced the federal deficit by over 10 years (Reuters, 9/22).
Discussion Ahead of Changes
Ahead of Tuesday's first mark-up sessions, Baucus held a private meeting with Finance Committee Democrats yesterday.
Baucus warned that they would have to develop appropriate revenue-generating strategies or cost savings for the changes they want in the bill during the markup. After the meeting, Baucus said, "The main discussion was, 'Okay, how do we make insurance affordable for people? Because we've got to make insurance affordable,'" adding, "But the next question was, 'How do you pay for it?'" (Washington Post, 9/22).
Baucus said his goal in revising the bill, in part, was to ensure that he had enough votes to efficiently advance the measure and increase its chances for more Republican support (Drucker, Roll Call, 9/22). He said, "I've written this the best way I can," adding, "Now it's up to the Republicans to decide whether they want to be on it or not. We're going ahead" (Washington Post, 9/22).
According to the New York Times, Baucus predicted that the Finance Committee would pass an amended version of the legislation this week (New York Times, 9/22).
Cost of Bill Remains Pressing Issue
Baucus' challenge this week will be to keep the cost of his committee's draft reform bill under $900 billion, which will be essential if he wants to secure the votes of moderate Democrats, the Los Angeles Times reports (Oliphant/Geiger, Los Angeles Times, 9/22).
A preliminary analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office found that it would cost $774 billion over a decade and reduce the federal deficit by $49 billion over the same period (Hitt/Adamy, Wall Street Journal, 9/22).The changes that Baucus is considering would add an additional $28 billion over 10 years to its cost but the bill would still adhere to President Obama's recent pledge that the bill he signs will not add to the federal budget deficit (Edney, CongressDaily, 9/22). 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.