Federal Healthcare Update

September 17, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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By Mona Mohib
The Senate
The big news in health care reform this week is the long-awaited release of Sen. Baucus’s (D-MT) chairman’s mark of the Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform bill. This bill largely mirrors the plan outlined by President Obama in his speech last week, with one exception being the inclusion of a co-op plan and not a public option. The bill was released without any of the Republican members of the Gang of Six negotiating group having signed on. However, Sen. Baucus expects some Republicans to vote for it in the final committee vote. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has stated that the bill is moving in the right direction, but that “a number of issues still need to be addressed.” Some Democrats have raised concerns with the bill, including Commerce Committee Chair John Rockefeller (D-WV), who said he could not support the proposal without the inclusion of a public option. Notable moderate Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who has been a key swing vote in the debate, said that she thought the bill was moving in the right direction.
In addition to the state-level co-ops, the bill includes subsidies to low-income individuals to buy insurance, a significant expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, and a tax on health insurance companies that provide high-end insurance plans, but does not include a requirement that employers offer coverage.
In a boon to Sen. Baucus’s efforts, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the bill yesterday, with the final total coming in at $774 billion, $82 billion lower than the Committee’s original estimate. The CBO also reported that the bill would eventually reduce the federal deficit by $49 billion while providing coverage for 94% of legal nonelderly residents.
The bill will begin a bipartisan walkthrough today, with amendments due Friday. The Committee markup is due to begin Tuesday of next week.
The House
The Democratic leadership in the House has been split on how to proceed on their version of the health care bill; more liberal Members want to push the bill to the floor soon to capitalize on the momentum of the President’s speech, while some moderate Democrats are hoping to wait and see what the Senate will do before taking action. Speaker Pelosi said Monday that the House bill will probably not come to the floor until October, although she will not say whether the House will wait for the Senate Finance Committee to mark up before bringing the bill to the floor. She also stated this week that she expects the House bill to include a public option.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) originally announced earlier this week that the Energy and Commerce Committee would meet soon to vote on the amendments that were not addressed before the recess. However, he has since announced that this meeting would be put off indefinitely.
The Administration
The President continued to campaign on behalf of health care reform this week, speaking to students at the University of Maryland on health care reform. On Friday, the President will be taping five interviews to be shown on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, ABC’s This Week, CNN’s State of the Union, and on Univision. Polls released this week showed lower approval numbers than ever before for President Obama, including a Rasmussen poll that showed a 50-50 split on job approval/disapproval.