Federal Healthcare Update

November 6, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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By Mona Mohib
The House
House leadership introduced the manager’s amendment to the health care bill on Tuesday this week, setting the stage for a floor vote. Leadership has tentatively scheduled the health care reform vote for tomorrow, in a special Saturday session. Democrats will try to pass the bill before the House breaks for the Veterans Day recess. Whether or not they have the votes is still unclear.
Two hot-button issues are currently keeping the Democratic caucus from achieving unity on health care reform. One of these issues is whether to cover illegal immigrants. As the House bill stands, illegal immigrants could purchase coverage through the public plan, but would not be eligible for any government-provided subsidies. Some lawmakers are threatening to vote against the bill unless it is changed to look more like the Senate version, which bars illegal immigrants from participating, regardless of whether they can afford the full cost of the subsidy. Additionally, as many as 40 Democrats have threatened to vote against the House bill if it includes any funding for abortion. Capturing their votes would require some changes to the public option, which is currently ambiguous on the topic of abortion. These two points of contention may not be resolved until the floor debate begins and amendments are offered on the bill.
The House Republicans released an alternative health care reform bill this week on Tuesday, which would offer incentive payments to states that lower health insurance costs and the number of uninsured over the next 10 years. The bill would not bar insurance companies from denying customers based on preexisting conditions, or expand Medicaid or offer subsidies to those who cannot afford health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its cost analysis of the House Republican reform proposal on Thursday and found it would cost $61 billion and cut the deficit by $68 billion over the next decade. The bill would cover nearly 3 million uninsured, or about 33 million fewer than the Democrats’ plan, which was scored at $894 billion.
President Obama is scheduled to speak on the floor of the House on Saturday, where he will try to shore up support for the bill in advance of a floor vote. Today the White House released a statement formally endorsing the House bill as a “critical milestone” in the health care reform effort.
The Senate
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is backing off of a timeline to pass the health care reform bill in the Senate as he tries to rally support and reach 60 votes on the floor. He has also said that he is still waiting on a final CBO score for the bill. Waiting on these two factors is making it look more likely that health care reform will move into next year, which could kill any momentum the Democrats have and result in a much weaker bill.
The Administration
In addition to his appearance on the House floor to drum up support for health care reform, President Obama has been holding one-on-one meetings with moderate Democrats at the White House. Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Kent Conrad (D-ND) have all been to the White House to discuss issues like the public option and budget impacts. Whether he will be able to move the needle in the Senate remains to be seen.