KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Lawmakers Seek Compromise On Health Overhaul Proposals

Democrats and Republicans are saying that they will need to compromise on a government-run public plan if they are to meet the deadline of having a bill on the Senate floor by the August recess, The Associated Press reports.

"'We'll get this done because we're doing it in a bipartisan way,' said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. 'If we can reach a compromise, we can get this done by Aug. 8 or at least get it out of committee by Aug. 8.' Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also a committee member, said compromise is possible but that senators can't 'take things off the table altogether,' a reference to the Democrats' desire to include a government insurance option. That is a sticking point for Republicans. They see a public or government insurance plan as unfair to the private insurance industry and the first step to nationalized health care. Obama and most fellow Democrats argue that a government plan would keep costs down and give consumers another option."

Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the House GOP leader, is a voice for the opposition. The AP reports he said "the public option and the employer mandate were 'deal-breakers' for his colleagues .... [meanwhile] House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., compared requiring all Americans to have health insurance with mandating that drivers carry auto insurance. 'We want everybody in the system,' Hoyer said. 'That will bring costs down.'" Boehner and Hoyer appeared on Fox News Sunday (Daniel, 7/5).

Grassley and Schumer butted heads on CBS' Face the Nation: "Schumer said he does not care what you call the alternative to private health insurance companies, as long as they provide competition and are national. Grassley charged that Schumer 'doesn't want to go too far on pushing the federal government' because it is a 'political problem'" (Levi 6/5).

The Washington Post: "In the days to come, Democrats will make critical decisions that will begin to define the bill's winners and losers. One moving target: who receives insurance subsidies. The Senate Finance Committee is considering an income threshold of 300 percent of the poverty level, or $54,930 in gross annual income for a family of three, to keep the legislation's 10-year cost at $1 trillion. For example, a single person earning $35,000 per year who does not have coverage today would be required to buy it under the legislation but would probably not receive help in offsetting a policy's cost, which averaged $4,704 in 2008. The committee also is considering provisions that could lead to higher insurance rates for adults in the 55-to-64 age category and higher out-of-pocket costs for certain people who buy their own insurance" (Murray and Montgomery, 7/6).

The timeline to get a bill done, however, is looking increasingly difficult to keep, Roll Call reports: "Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), managing the health care bill in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, signaled late last week that Democratic leaders do not expect a bill to clear the Senate in the next five weeks. Rather, Dodd indicated, the goal is to complete the tricky merger of the HELP and Finance Committee bills, with the floor fracas over a final bill put off until after Labor Day. … Senate Democratic leaders' official timeline still calls for a bill to clear the chamber by Aug. 7, according to a senior Democratic aide" (Drucker, 7/6).

Politico reports that Democrats still have some convincing to do on reform to Americans: "But they need to make a more visceral case for overhauling the system, said Jim Kessler, the vice president for policy at Third Way, who co-authored [a seven-page strategy] memo with Anne Kim, director of the group's economic program. 'Most of the current words used to describe and sell reform are computational words – cost, access, quality,' Kessler said. 'They are Mr. Spock words, not Dr. Spock words. … You need to use terms that are warm, evocative and emotional'" (Brown, 7/6).

The Associated Press has a run down of the different bills being offered.

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.