Federal Healthcare Update

October 23, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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By Mona Mohib
The Senate
The Senate Finance Committee officially filed their health care bill on Monday afternoon. Clocking in at 1,502 pages, the bill is the first look at legislative language from the Committee. Although there’s nothing new in the bill, Senate Democrats are still struggling over two main provisions, namely the public option, and whether and how to tax so-called Cadillac health insurance plans. Under the current version of the bill, a plan that costs an individual more than $8,000 and a family more than $21,000 annually would be subject to the tax. However, some Senators, including Sens. Kerry (D-MA), Schumer (D-NY), Stabenow (D-MI), and Rockefeller (D-WV) are concerned that the threshold that defines a Cadillac plan is too low and will impact the middle class. This may soon be a moot point, however, as the bill is currently being merged with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to form the version that will be considered on the Senate floor.
On Wednesday, the Senate considered a bill (S. 1776) that would have prevented scheduled cuts to Medicare’s physician payment rates. The bill, which was defeated 47-53, would have cost roughly $245 billion, and was largely seen as a test run for the broader health care reform bill. The goal of the bill is one that has wide support from both Democrats and Republicans, but most Republicans objected to the bill as it did not contain any offsets, instead adding to the deficit. Thirteen Democrats also voted against it.
Late Wednesday, a spokesperson for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that the health care overhaul bill would not reach the Senate floor next week. As we approach November, Senate leadership will have less time to schedule floor consideration, as the Senate is expected to recess for Election Day, Veterans’ Day, and Thanksgiving.
The House
On Tuesday, House leaders received a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate which placed the cost of the still unfinished House bill at $871 billion. This places the bill well below the $900 billion goal that President Obama asked the House to meet.
Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) asked the Democratic Caucus this week for an informal count of how many Democrats would vote for health care reform with a public option. Amid rumors that the leadership did, and then didn’t, have all the necessary 218 votes, Speaker Pelosi finally said today that the Democratic leadership was close to having the votes to pass a robust public option. Speaker Pelosi has requested CBO scores for two types of public plans, one in which payment rates are tied to Medicare, and one in which rates are negotiated. She is promoting the Medicare-pegged version, as the CBO score revealed that the negotiated rates would significantly increase the cost of the public plan.
Senior lawmakers said Thursday that major sections of the measure have been locked in and that a final bill could be made public as soon as Monday in preparation for debate before the full House early next month.