Federal Healthcare Update

July 31, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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The Senate
Yesterday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) said that his committee will not complete action on a bill before the Senate heads out for recess at the end of next week.  As the ongoing bipartisan negotiations continue, the Senate Finance Committee thus will not meet a public goal of voting the bill out of committee before the Senate adjourns for recess which had stated by Chairman Baucus as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week.  Senator Baucus expected the bi-partisan group of six committee members to continue its negotiations over the recess.
Chairman Baucus stated that a preliminary report from the CBO shows that the draft of the compromise health bill would cost less than $900 billion over 10 years, cover 95 percent of Americans by 2015, and be fully paid for.  The bill is expected to lack both a government-run insurance plan and a mandate that employers cover their workers. Additionally, Finance members are leaning toward a tax on generous insurance plans to fund their bill, instead of the surtax on wealthy Americans included in the House measure. 
The six-member group of Finance Committee Senators working on a bipartisan health reform proposal did reach an agreement yesterday on an enhanced version of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).  There were no public details on the the agreement released. 
The House
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is coming closer to voting on their version of a health care reform bill. 
Liberals on the Committee have negotiated a deal with Blue Dog Democrats that is expected to allow Energy and Commerce to pass the bill before the House adjourns for recess.  The Energy and Commerce Committee is currently debating the bill.
The deal will restore some cuts sought by the Blue Dogs by finding savings in other places.  One example includes letting the government negotiate drug prices and use the savings to lower insurance premiums in the exchanges that are established in the bill.  Another amendment calls for additional savings through the simplification of Medicare and Medicaid administrative costs.
This deal will make changes to the agreement that some Blue Dogs reached earlier in the week with Energy and Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA)


Yesterday, the House Republicans Study Committee introduced the Empowering Patients First Act. A spokesman for the Republican Study Committee, which produced the bill, said it is “fully paid for.” This is an intentional contrast with a House Democratic bill, which the CBO estimated would add $239 billion to the deficit in its first 10 years and much more in later decades. The Republican bill would rely mainly on tax incentives to expand health coverage, giving individuals without employer-provided coverage a tax break to buy their own, and providing tax credits for small businesses that enroll employees in health care plans. The bill does not include an individual or employer mandate, or a public option.
The Recess


The Senate has one week left before its recess begins. The House will recess today, and Members will soon return to their districts, where concerned citizens will be joined by partisans on both sides to ensure that health care is the number one topic in public meetings with constituents. Some polling numbers released this week suggest that public support for a health care reform bill is waning under the sharp criticism that has been leveled at the pending proposals by opponents. This is not unrelated to a recent drop in approval numbers for President Obama himself, and will compound the political challenge that Democrats now face in rallying public support for their approach to health care reform. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) conceded Thursday that Democrats have been losing the message war over the health bill, saying “We’re responsible for putting together a plan, and so we’ve been focused on that. Republicans have been somewhat free to conjure up whatever they want.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in rebuttal, “The American people are making their voices heard in the debate over health care, and one of the things they’re demanding is that we do something to lower costs. Some in Congress seem to be in such a rush to pass just any reform, rather than the right reform, that they’re looking everywhere for the money to pay for it — even if it means sticking it to seniors with cuts to Medicare.”

The House and Senate will continue working toward health care reform legislation over the recess.  If, as expected, the Energy and Commerce Committee passes its health care reform bill prior to adjourning, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer will use the recess to work to forge the “tri-committee” bill in the House.  This will be done by merging the language crafted in Energy and Commerce, Education and Labor, and Ways and Means committees, respectively.  In the Senate, the bi-partisan group of six committee members are expected to continue its negotiations over the recess.