Federal Healthcare Update

July 8, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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With the deadline of the August recess fast approaching, the three health care reform bills currently moving through Congress are seeing increased scrutiny. None are complete, and all must move quickly to meet President Obama’s deadline. In this email, we will recap the most recent news on the health care debate, but first we will take a look at the upcoming schedules for each of the three health care bills.
Senate Finance Committee
The Senate Finance Committee is due to receive the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate of its health care reform bill today. The Committee will then hold a closed-door walk-through of the bill on Wednesday and Thursday, with the final language to be released on Thursday or Friday. Most expect the remainder of the process to be relatively quick, due to the amount of collaboration that has already gone into the bill. This means that the bill would go through markup in the Committee the week of July 13th, with the goal being a completed bill, ready to be released to the Senate, by July 17th. Although this is a tight timeline, both Sen. Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Baucus (D-MT) have expressed confidence in recent days that the bill will be complete before the August recess- so much so, in fact, that Sen. Baucus, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said it was “not a question,” on Monday.
Senate HELP Committee
The HELP Committee is continuing its markup today and for the rest of the week. The Committee’s goal is to get their bill completed by the end of this week or early next week at the earliest, but at the latest they will aim to match the Finance Committee’s schedule. The next major step will be merging the two Senate bills, which many expect to happen sooner rather than later. As the bills are merged, the majority of the language will probably come from the Finance Committee bill, rather than the HELP bill, as this is the bill with bipartisan support.
The House
Leadership aides have said that they will introduce a bill by Thursday or Friday, and that this bill will include information on plans to pay for the bill- information necessary to moving the process forward. Markup is scheduled to begin next week, with all three Committees involved simultaneously marking up the bill. In the meantime, House leadership has scheduled a caucus meeting with each of the three Chairmen handling the bill. Energy and Commerce Chair Henry Waxman, House Education and Labor Chair George Miller, and Ways and Means Chair Charles Rangel will all have opportunities to speak to the caucus and present the portions of the bill that fall under their purview.
Additionally, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, Caucus Chairman John Larson, and Vice-chair Xavier Becerra will hold six “listening sessions” that break members out by region. The three leaders will take concerns and ideas from the sessions’ participants back to the leadership in preparation for next week’s markup. The ultimate goal is to hold a vote on the bill the week of July 27th, just before the House breaks for the August recess.
The Public Option
Recent news about the public option may indicate that some are still seeking alternatives to the provision. Sen. Schumer (D-NY) is still pushing for the inclusion of a public option in the Senate Finance bill, saying on CBS’s Face the Nation, “Make no mistake about it, the president is for this strongly. There will be a public option in the final bill.” However, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal called the White House “open to a deal” on the public option. A different plan, the health co-op, has recently been gaining ground as a viable alternative to the public option. The New York Times today ran a story on a co-op in Seattle, calling the plan a “model for overhaul” and extolling the virtues of the plan.
The Administration
The Obama administration has announced that it is close to a PhRMA-style deal with major hospital associations, totaling nearly $150 billion in cost savings to help pay for an overhaul of the nation’s health care system. As President Obama is out of the country, an announcement of the deal from Vice President Joe Biden is expected at the White House as early as Wednesday. Although details of the deal are still vague, industry sources have stated that most of the savings would come through lower-than-expected Medicare and Medicaid payments to hospitals.
Finally, in case you missed it, President Obama held a health care strategy call with Congressional leaders just before the July 4th holiday, in which Obama expressed his concern over advertisements and online campaigns targeting moderate Democrats. These ads, which we wrote about in a previous email, are targeting moderate and conservative Democrats for not being sufficiently committed to the cause of health care reform. Obama called for unity in the party, saying “we shouldn’t be focusing resources on each other. We ought to be focused on winning this debate.” Obama continued to say he is hoping left-leaning organizations that worked on his behalf in the presidential campaign, such as MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Service Employees International Union, and Progressive Change Campaign Committee will now rally support for health care reform, rather than attacking Democrats.