KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Reid Releases Senate Health Reform Bill, Includes Tax On Wealthy Americans

Health reform news coverage went into detail of the Senate legislation Wednesday evening.

The New York Times: "Democratic leaders in the Senate unveiled their proposal on Wednesday for overhauling the health care system, outlining landmark legislation that they said would cover most of the uninsured while reducing the federal budget deficit. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said at an evening news conference that the legislation, which represents President Obama's signature domestic initiative and will be subject to lengthy and heated debate on the Senate floor, would impose new regulations on insurers, extend coverage to 31 million people who currently do not have any and add new benefits to Medicare" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 11/18).

The Associated Press: "The Democrat's $849 billion measure is designed to remake the nation's health care system, relying on cuts in future Medicare spending to cover costs - as well as on higher payroll taxes for the well-to-do and a new levy on patients undergoing elective cosmetic surgery. Aides said the mammoth, 2,074-page bill would reduce deficits by $127 billion over a decade and by as much as $650 billion in the 10 years that follow, citing as-yet-unreleased estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
'Tonight begins the last leg of this journey,' said Nevada Sen. Reid, less than two weeks after the House approved its version of a sweeping remake of the health care system - and nearly 10 months after President Barack Obama's Inauguration Day summons to action" (Espo, 11/18).

CongressDaily: "The Senate Democrats' healthcare overhaul will be paid for in part by increasing the Medicare payroll tax for couples earning more than $250,000, according to Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad. The tax would increase from 1.45 percent to 1.95 percent. Conrad also said the bill taxes high-cost 'Cadillac' insurance plans valued at more than $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for families" (11/18).

Reuters reports: "The $849 billion price tag puts the measure well under President Barack Obama's target of $900 billion for his top domestic priority" (Whitesides and Smith, 11/18).

Politico: "Reid's plan contains considerable differences from House legislation passed earlier this month - with a more limited public option and different ways to pay for the bill. Reid included an excise tax on insurers who offer 'Cadillac' health plans, not the 'millionaire's tax' that's in the House bill. Democrats on Wednesday were clearly hoping that the deficit figures - the biggest deficit reduction of any health bill to date, Reid's office noted - would knock down one of the last remaining obstacles to winning the votes of key centrists, at least to go ahead with debate on the bill as early as this weekend. ... And, in fact, the strategy seemed to be working. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu both sounded more positive about voting to allow debate to proceed" (Budoff Brown, 11/18).

CNN has video of the Reid announcement and notes: "President Barack Obama hailed what he called a 'critical milestone' in the push to meet his top domestic priority for 2009. 'From day one, our goal has been to enact legislation that offers stability and security to those who have insurance and affordable coverage to those who don't, and that lowers costs for families, businesses and governments across the country,' Obama said in a statement, adding that the Senate proposal 'meets those principles'"  (Barrett, Walsh and Bash, 11/18).

The Wall Street Journal: The legislation represents the Nevada Democrat's first attempt to build consensus among Senate Democratic liberals and centrists, as well as the two independents allied with the party. .. The $849 billion figure and the prospect of deficit reduction cheered Democrats. But the figures aren't likely to win over Republicans, who say the bill adds costly new benefits for some Americans when the federal budget deficit is reaching new heights. 'We're going to do everything we can to defeat this monstrosity,' said Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.)" (Hitt and Adamy, 11/18).

Roll Call reports that the "liberal Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) agreed that the measure appeared to address most of the concerns Senate Democrats had before Reid merged a Senate Finance package with a competing measure approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. 'Where there has been a difference [between the two panels], the leader chose the right difference,' Kerry said. Kerry acknowledged, however, that Democrats would still be eager to change the bill even more if it survives a GOP-led filibuster designed to prevent debate from starting. He noted that the expansion of Medicaid would need to be tweaked to satisfy many Senators, including himself" (Pierce and Dennis, 11/18).

Kaiser Health News has details about the CBO preliminary score and a copy of the bill.

The Washington Post reports that a Senate leadership aide "said hopes were fading that the Senate would be able to hold a crucial procedural vote Friday to usher the measure onto the Senate floor. That vote is now likely to occur no earlier than Saturday, the aide said. Complicating the Senate's timetable was the absence of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who flew home because of a family medical emergency. A Baucus spokesman said it was unclear when Baucus, whose committee drafted one of two health care measures in the Senate, would be able to return to Washington. Because Republicans have threatened to filibuster the health package, Reid needs all 58 Democrats and two independents to be present and voting yes in order to prevail on the procedural motion that would formally begin debate" (Montgomery, 11/18). 

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