Federal Healthcare Update

December 1, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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By Mona Mohib
The Senate has officially begun debate on the health care bill, with opening statements starting around 4:00 yesterday afternoon. As Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) continues the process of building consensus on the bill, he will try to strike a balance between the liberal and conservative members of the Democratic Caucus, which will be far from easy. Senators Landrieu (D-LA), Lincoln (D-AR), Nelson (D-NB), and Lieberman (I-CT) will be among the most important names in the ongoing negotiations.  All four of these Senators voted for cloture, but have said that that does not guarantee a yes vote on the bill.
Amendments to the bill are still being filed, but some proposed amendments are heralding controversy to come in the health care debate. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is expected to offer an amendment to insert abortion funding restrictions in the bill, mirroring language that narrowly passed in the House bill last month. Some fiscal hawks have suggested amendments to curb government spending in the long term, particularly on Medicare.  Republicans are also likely to offer at least one amendment limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.
Some Members plan to offer amendments that would move the bill further to the left.  Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) plans to offer measures to strengthen states’ ability to adopt a single-payer health-care system, in which the government is the main entity paying health-care bills.  Sen. Sanders also wants to block states from “opting out” of the public option and expand the number of people eligible for the bill’s insurance exchange. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has said that he will likely offer an amendment to strengthen the public option.  These amendments, if adopted, could take the votes of moderate Democrats off the table. 
In a study released Monday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said that the Senate health bill could significantly reduce costs for many people who buy health insurance on their own, and that it would not substantially change premiums for Americans who receive coverage from large employers. These savings are due largely to the subsidies in the bill meant to help individuals purchase health care.  Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) have written to the Chief Actuary at the Department of Health and Human Services, Richard Foster, to request a second opinion on the costs of the bill.  Foster has been somewhat more critical of the bill than the CBO in the past.
Majority Leader Reid has stated that the Senate will be in session this weekend to continue working on health care. His goal is to get the bill passed before Christmas.