KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Democratic Senators Deny Rift On Plans

"Democratic plans for revamping U.S. healthcare are taking shape, with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., soon to announce a proposal which could form the core of the nation's new health system,"  Reuters/The Boston Globe reports. Kennedy, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is expected to unveil a plan that will "include both a new government program to provide medical coverage for all as well as a mandate that every American acquire some form of health insurance." Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, is developing "his own draft bill, which he hopes can win support from Democrats as well as Republicans leery of too great a government role in the new healthcare system."

"How the two draft bills balance out remains to be seen. The two chairmen have told Obama they plan to develop complementary bills. The Finance Committee has sole jurisdiction over financing the overhaul and shares jurisdiction with Kennedy's committee" on other reform issues (Smith, 5/31).

The senators issued a joint press release saying they will work together, but failed to acknowledge the point of contention between them, inclusion of a public health insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Kennedy favors such a plan, while Baucus - pushing for what he calls a more bipartisan bill - favors a plan that would create such a system only if private insurers fail at bringing down costs, The New York Times reports.

"'For both of us,' the statement said, 'reforming the nation's health care system to cut cost, improve quality and provide affordable coverage remains the top priority on our two committees. We have worked together closely over many months and will continue to do so. We intend to ensure that our committees report similar and complementary legislation that can be quickly merged into one bill for consideration on the Senate floor before the August recess'" (Pear, 5/31).

The Times reports in a separate story that "Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, said Friday, 'It's pretty certain that Senator Kennedy could not support the Baucus plan, and Senator Baucus could not support the Kennedy plan.' But Mr. Schumer said "it's possible" that both could support a version he is developing. Under Mr. Schumer's proposal, any new public plan would have to comply with all the rules and standards that apply to private insurance. A public plan would also have to be self-sustaining, would have to rely on premiums and would not have a pipeline into the federal Treasury" (Pear, 5/31). 

According to Politico, both Baucus and Kennedy have planned to easily meld their bills together before introducing it on the Senate floor, despite differences between them (Brown, 5/30).

Kennedy's plan would also expand a "health insurance program for children to cover those up to the age 26. It would also require individuals to get health insurance and set a federal standard for Medicaid, the federal program for the poor, to cover people earning up to 150 percent of the poverty level. Kennedy would pay providers participating in the public plan 10 percent more than Medicare reimbursement rates. Families earning up to 500 percent of the poverty level would be eligible for a sliding scale of subsidies to help them buy insurance," Bloomberg reports (Gaouette, 5/30).

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