Federal Healthcare Update

September 10, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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By Mona Mohib
With the August Congressional recess now over, health care is the President’s top legislative priority.  This was reflected in the President’s joint Congressional address last night, in which he outlined his goals for health care reform. These goals were modeled largely off the Senate Finance Committee model floated by Senator Baucus (D-MT) this week. His speech was an attempt to regain control of the debate and he tried to shift momentum toward achieving reform. He used the speech to reach out to some key groups vital to the effort. His comments on fiscal responsibility were geared toward getting conservative Blue Dog Democrats on board, his endorsement of the public option was an attempt to placate more liberal Democrats, and he also spoke directly to seniors who fear that health care reform will cut their Medicare benefits. The President also endorsed some Republican ideas, noting that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was the first to offer a proposal to create a high-risk pool to help cover people with pre-existing conditions against catastrophic expenses. He also announced a pilot program intended to curb medical malpractice lawsuits, an issue favored by some Republicans.
Other news in health care this week included the recent report that Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) will take over as Chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), who was first in line, turned down the opportunity to lead the Committee, choosing instead to retain his post as Chair of the Senate Banking Committee. The Senate HELP Committee has already reported out its version of the health care bill, but will be under Sen. Harkin’s leadership as the bill is merged with the upcoming Senate Finance Committee bill.
The Senate Finance Committee and the bipartisan Gang of Six negotiating group has been under intense scrutiny over the August recess. The group’s continued negotiations have been seen as precarious, with many speculating that the talks would have to be abandoned by September 15th if no conclusion was reached. This week, Sen. Baucus floated a plan that he said included many of the points that the group had agreed upon, and was intended to force decisions from the group. The plan includes many of the provisions discussed in the President’s speech last night, including a nonprofit insurance co-op and a tax on insurance companies that offer so-called “Cadillac” plans. Unlike the President’s plan, there is no discussion of the public option. Sen. Baucus has said he intends to move forward with a markup of the bill as early as next week.
Today the President meets with more than a dozen moderate Democratic Senators in an effort to continue the momentum generated in his speech last night. They will likely discuss some of the outstanding issues which will have to be resolved on the Senate floor, including the overall cost of the plan.