KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Health Reform: Senate Prepares For CBO Estimate; GOP On Attack

News outlets covering the health reform debate noted that Republicans are continuing their arguments against Democratic legislation and outlined what might happen in the coming week in the Senate.

The Hill: "The latest push for Republican ideas for health reform was made Saturday by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who also used the GOP radio address to promote his own Senate candidacy. Kirk outlined core elements of Republicans' health reform proposals in the address, arguing that the healthcare bill passed a week ago by the House would do little to reform the system, and result in higher taxes. 'The Pelosi healthcare bill has no significant lawsuit reforms and does not guarantee your medical rights from government waiting lines or restrictions,' Kirk said" (O'Brien, 11/14).

Chicago Tribune  "Kirk, one of nine Republican candidates seeking the Feb. 2 nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Rod Blagojevich Democratic appointee Sen. Roland Burris, contended his proposal aimed at curbing malpractice lawsuits and allow people to buy insurance across state lines was a 'common sense' approach to health care reform. 'Unfortunately, all of these common sense Republican reforms were rejected by (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi'" (Pearson, 11/14)

Related KHN story: The Debate Over Selling Insurance Across State Lines (Galewtiz, 11/8).

CQ HealthBeat reports on one controversial aspect of the House bill - whether people who didn't buy health insurance would go to jail - and reports:  "In theory, it is possible under the House version of the health care overhaul bill - but likely would only happen in very rare circumstances, and only for those who willfully refuse to pay taxes assessed in the form of a penalty tax. 'In actual implementation, I can't believe anybody is going to go to jail over this'" said Linda J. Blumberg, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Urban Institute who's closely followed the health debate. ... The approach for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would be the same as with other delinquent tax filers who face the possibility they will wind up imprisoned if they refuse to pay and undergo criminal prosecution, said Ed Haislmeier, senior research fellow in health policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation. 'At the end of the day is it theoretically possible? Yes,' said Haislmaier. But fewer than 100 convictions were obtained last year by the IRS for willful failure to pay taxes" (Norman, 11/13).

Meanwhile, Roll Call reports, "Senate leaders do not expect to receive an official cost estimate on their health care reform bill until sometime next week, but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is prepared to keep the Senate in session the week of Thanksgiving in order to get debate started on the measure before the holiday. Senate aides acknowledged that the Congressional Budget Office is not expected to produce a cost estimate of the bill on Friday as expected and that Reid is hoping to receive the score by Tuesday or Wednesday" (Pierce, 11/13).

CNN: "Reid won't release the legislation until he knows the cost of the bill. He has been waiting nearly three weeks for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to return its score, or cost. Reid's aides said they expect the CBO's score any day. ... Asked when Reid hopes the legislation will get to the president, Rodell Mollineau, one of Reid's top communication staffers, said, 'our goals remain unchanged. 'We want to get health insurance reform done this year, and we have unprecedented momentum to achieve that'" (Bash, Keck and Helton, 11/14).

The Associated Press: "The wait has been lengthy precisely because Reid is aiming to ensure that when the budget office releases its analysis it hits certain marks. The complex legislation, which Reid is taking a free hand in writing based on two committee-passed bills, must not exceed Obama's specified price tag of $900 billion over 10 years, and it must not add to the deficit."

"'We've sent them a list of options; they raise questions. We answer them, we raise other questions, they answer them. The goal is to put together the best bill possible,' Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Friday. 'Senator Reid made a decision a while ago that he wants to get this right before taking it to the floor.' Senators wanted more generous subsidies to help lower-income people afford insurance; Reid has weighed that. Making subsidies more generous or scaling back a tax on high-value insurance plans that's unpopular with union members and some Democrats would require more money. Reid began considering a new Medicare payroll tax on people earning more than $250,000 a year, as The Associated Press first reported this week. CBO must do the math in response to each new idea from Reid, then redo it as Reid tweaks his proposals" (Werner, 11/14).



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