Sen. Baucus Says Health Care Overhaul Will Cover About 95% of Citizens, Will Not Cover Undocumented ImmigrantsSenate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Thursday said that Congress' health care overhaul plan would cover 94% to 96% of the population but not undocumented immigrants, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/21). In remarks at a briefing sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Families USA and the National Federation of Independent Business, Baucus said, "There are always going to be some people ... you just can't find" to enroll, adding that "we're going to try to get as close as we can (to 100% coverage) and we're working hard to accomplish that."
He added, "[W]e're not going to cover undocumented workers. That's too politically explosive" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 5/21). According to an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies and the U.S. Census Bureau, undocumented immigrants make up between 15% and 22% of the estimated 47 million U.S. residents without health coverage. Baucus said, "I don't have a good answer yet to undocumented workers, illegal aliens," adding, "There will still be charity care " (Landers, Dallas Morning News, 5/22).
Baucus said that the bill his committee is working on and that he expects to mark up in mid-June will include "incentives" and possibly requirements for employers to pay for employee health insurance. Baucus mentioned the possibility of including an individual mandate and establishing a health insurance exchange (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/21). Baucus also noted that the plan most likely will include a public health insurance option in some form (Tumulty, "Swampland," Time Magazine, 5/21).
"Everything's on the table," Baucus said, warning that "because this is so big, so complex, there are going to be a lot of trade-offs. ... This is just so large" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/21). He said that he is very optimistic about the prospects of bipartisan support for the legislation, placing the odds at between 75% and 80% ("Swampland," Time Magazine, 5/21).
A podcast and video of the press conference are available online at kff.org.
Taxing Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits
Proposals to tax employer-sponsored health benefits to pay for a health care overhaul are gaining support among Democratic lawmakers working on health care reform legislation, the Washington Post reports. During a Senate Finance Committee closed-door session on Wednesday, the proposal "won a surprising degree of acceptance," according to the Post. The White House has expressed opposition to the proposal but also has said that all health reform funding options are still on the table. Republicans included the tax in the health reform plan they released this week (Montgomery, Washington Post, 5/22).
The Senate Finance Committee is considering a number of options on the tax exemption for employer health benefits, including:
- Capping the amount of health benefits that can qualify for an exemption;
- Taxing benefits for higher-income residents;
- A combination of the two previous options, in which tax-exempt benefits are capped only for higher-income residents; and
- Eliminating the exemption and creating a system based on deductions or tax credits (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 5/19).
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) warned that taxing only wealthy families and individuals "doesn't make sense" because it would raise too little money, but "you've got to be very careful how far you go" down in the income threshold, noting that if "you come down too low, you're impacting workers and threatening the employer-based system" (Washington Post, 5/22).
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who previously has previously said he would not support changing the exemption for employer-sponsored health benefits, on Thursday indicated that his committee is evaluating taxing employer health benefits as a funding source (Edney, CongressDaily, 5/21). Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said, "There's a strong sentiment that still exists in the House" against taxing employer-sponsored benefits, but "we understand how important it is to get a package through." An unnamed Ways and Means member said, "Everyone hates it. But where else do you go?" (Washington Post, 5/22).
Democratic Senators Call for Public Plan
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and 27 Senate co-sponsors on Thursday introduced a resolution (S Res 156) calling for the inclusion of a public health insurance option in any health care reform legislation, Politico reports. The resolution does not mention how the public plan should operate or what form it should take, only that there should be a public option for U.S. residents. According to Politico, the resolution is "the latest effort by a bloc of Democratic senators to influence the closed-door negotiations of the Finance Committee, where the bulk of the bill is being written" (Budoff Brown , Politico, 5/21).
Begala Issues Health Care Memo
Democratic strategist Paul Begala has issued a memo calling for Democrats to aggressively respond to Republicans' attacks on health reform, Politico reports. In the memo, Begala tells Democrats to "banish from your lexicon the oft-cited statistic that 48 million Americans lack health insurance," adding that while "it is true, it has two flaws: first, it lacks emotion; second it lacks resonance. Every single working American is suffering with the high cost of health care today." Begala states that if Republicans argue Democrats want government to control health care, Democrats should retort that health insurers currently hold that position and that health reform would require insurers "to charge reasonable prices and deliver quality services." The Begala memo comes in response to a recent Republican health strategy memo by GOP consultant Frank Luntz (Budoff Brown , Politico, 5/21).