KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

A Rocky Start For Senate Panel’s Health Reform Debate

The Wall Street Journal reports that "the first meeting of a Senate panel to formally consider health-care legislation got off to a rocky start Wednesday as Republicans launched an attack on the bill's hefty costs and lack of detail on contentious provisions." 

Sen. John McCain, R., Ariz., interrupted the opening remarks of Sen. Christopher Dodd, D., Conn., saying the proceedings were a "joke." He also "suggested that the panel needed better cost estimates" before continuing. "'I suggest we not move forward until we have some provision on how we're going to pay for it,' Sen. McCain said. 'Obviously, the CBO estimates that came out yesterday are much, much higher than we have originally estimated and we've yet to pay for them.'" His comments were echoed by several Republican members of the panel, including its top Republican, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who said the bill was drafted "with little input from Republicans."

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's process is expected to stretch into next week. "Sen. Dodd, who is leading efforts to craft the bill in lieu of the ailing Sen. Kennedy, said the committee should await a more accurate cost estimate, or 'score,' of the bill until after members are finished amending it. He said he expects to introduce proposals on the missing parts of the bill Thursday (Yoest, 6/17).

Associated Press: The HELP Committee "began work on a bill encompassing President Barack Obama's legislative priority. The effort marked the first time since President Bill Clinton's administration that Congress was tackling such a broad overhaul." But "holes remain" regarding specific sections of the bill, including "a new public insurance plan to compete with the private market, and whether employers must provide health care for their workers." And the bill's price tag also continues to trigger opposition. "Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaking in the full Senate, complained that lawmakers are being pressed to approve the measure without review or knowledge of the costs, just like the stimulus bill. 'Once again it's rush and spend and rush and spend and a tidal wave of debt,' McConnell said." Meanwhile, "the Finance Committee was supposed to produce a draft Wednesday. But the Chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said that wouldn't happen and the bill would come out 'when it's ready' - later this week or next. His committee was supposed to start voting next week" (Werner, 6/17).

Bloomberg: "The largest expansion of U.S. health care since the creation of Medicare in 1965 may emerge from legislation designed to reshape the medical industry and change how Americans receive and pay for care." Today, the Senate health committee planned to begin debating a bill that "includes 'gateways' where consumers may compare coverage plans. The Senate Finance Committee later this week will unveil a bill that among its provisions will call for taxes on health benefits, and House committees will release a draft of their own comprehensive measure that would create a government-backed plan to compete with private insurance" (Gaouette and Litvan, 6/17).

New York Times: "The health committee's bill is likely to be just a starting point. Because of the predominance of more liberal Democrats on the committee, Republicans have been generally reluctant to support many of the proposals put forward so far. And a rival bill, being developed by the more centrist Senate Finance Committee, is expected to have a better shot at securing a bipartisan accord" (Herszenhorn, 6/17).

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