Senate Finance Health Reform Bill Still Facing Challenges From Committee Democrats
Chairman Max Baucus is trying to hold his own party together on the health reform package soon to be considered by the Senate Finance Committee even as the impact on the deficit and taxes make some Democrats question the measure.
NPR reports: "The bill Baucus originally brought to his committee three weeks ago was mostly the product of months-long negotiations between three Democrats on the committee and three Republicans. In order to try to win some of those Republican votes, Baucus made many concessions, some of which made Democrats furious. ... The bill would have eliminated the government's popular Children's Health Insurance Program for many children, instead making them eligible for subsidized private insurance through new insurance exchanges. That didn't sit very well with people such as West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who helped create the CHIP program." An amendment to put them back into the program similarly angered many Republicans (Rovner, 10/6).
The New York Times revealed other senators' concerns on the bill, which include: "Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine worries that the bill would require people to buy insurance they cannot afford. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas fears that the bill would be too costly for the government. And Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon warns that the bill would lock many workers into health plans selected by their employers, without allowing them to shop for better, cheaper plans, an alternative that could help drive down costs for everyone" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 10/6).
Reuters reports there's more unease about the proposal: "U.S. Senate healthcare reform bill would raise $29 billion more in taxes on healthcare companies over 10 years than originally estimated, congressional experts said on Tuesday, fueling new Republican attacks on the legislation. The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation reported the bill would raise $121 billion in fees on drug companies, health insurers and the makers of medical devices, up from the $92 billion it reported last month." The Joint Committee said the estimate changed "because the companies would not be able to deduct the fees from their corporate taxes. Senator Charles Grassley, the senior Republican on the panel, said the higher taxes would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums and healthcare costs" (Whitesides, 10/6).
Meanwhile, USA Today highlights how some industries are faring better than originally expected: "Hospitals, coal miners and clinical labs are among the special interests that have won exemptions from taxes and other cost-cutting measures in a health care plan crafted by the Senate Finance Committee." The bill provides hospitals with a "10-year exemption from cost-cutting recommendations that would be made by an independent federal commission charged with controlling spending in the government's Medicare program. Richard Coorsh of the Federation of American Hospitals said the group reached agreement with the Obama administration to forgo $155 billion in government reimbursements over a decade to help pay for the plan." But the hospital deal "has drawn the ire of doctors' groups, who would be subject to commission recommendations. Michael Maves, CEO of the American Medical Association, called the provision a 'serious inequity' in a letter to Baucus last month" (Schouten and Fritze, 10/7).
U.S. News & World Report reports that the public option that the committee considered and decided against may not be dead after all: "But it's not clear whether liberal Democrats will be able to win over moderates like Conrad or Lincoln, who faces a tough re-election battle, or, for that matter, Sen. Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican from Maine who voted against both public options but whose vote is being widely courted by Democrats" (Garber, 10/6).