Finance Committee Continues Health Bill Mark-Up, October Recess Cancelled
As Senate Finance Committee members meet Wednesday to discuss their overhaul bill, Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., hopes to "revise a key financing provision of his health reform package in light of a new analysis showing that it would impose a particularly heavy tax burden on people over 65, aides said," the The Washington Post reports.
A day after the Finance panel defeated two proposals for a government insurance plan, "Republicans are preparing to challenge Baucus's proposal to limit tax deductions for medical expenses as a direct hit on financially strapped seniors." Baucus added the tax increase provision as a way to help lower coverage costs for uninsured middle-income families and individuals.
"The Senate panel is expected to wrap up its increasingly fractious debate on coverage issues Wednesday and turn to revenue provisions that would pay for the bill, which is likely to be the main vehicle for debate on the Senate floor."
Panel Democrats also "defeated an attempt Wednesday to add further restrictions on abortion coverage to a sweeping health-care reform bill" (Murray/ Montgomery, 9/30).
The Associated Press: Finance Committee members voted down the amendment, which would have strengthened the anti-abortion provisions included in the draft proposal, by a three vote margin. "Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, argued that provisions already in the bill ... needed to be tightened to guarantee they would be ironclad," according to the AP. But Chairman Baucus "argued that his bill already incorporates federal law that bars abortion funding, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother" and "would require health plans to keep federal subsidies separate from any funds used to pay for abortions in all other cases." In a related step, the panel "also rejected, 13-10, a Hatch conscience amendment that would have strengthened provisions to protect health care workers who refuse to perform abortions and other procedures because of religious or moral objections" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 9/30).
The Associated Press reports in a second story that Finance Committee Senators also rejected, again by a 13 to 10 vote, a "Republican move to require photo identification for federal health benefits" (9/30).
And although no votes were cast on this particular topic, the panel also discussed the so-called "Cadillac" tax.
Bloomberg: "U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and fellow Democrats pledged to find a way to shield even more retirees and union workers from a tax on the most expensive health-care plans." The panel, on its sixth day of deliberations, "discussed the issue at the request of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a Democrat who proposed the tax in July." He would like to see the tax's threshold scaled back. "Kerry today asked panel members to craft the tax in a way that wouldn't hurt union workers in 'high-risk' industries such as coal mining and firefighting. Baucus originally proposed a 35 percent excise tax on plans worth more than $8,000 for an individual or $21,000 for a family. He then suggested increasing the tax to 40 percent, while lifting the thresholds to $8,750 and $23,000. Kerry wants to raise the thresholds to $9,800 and $25,000 and move them even higher for people between the ages of 55 and 65" (Gaouette/Jensen, 9/30).
The Hill's Blog Briefing Room: "Kerry and committee Democrats are concerned that the tax would hit too many insurance plans that cover low- and middle-income workers and retirees." But, in what has become Kerry's pattern during this mark up, "he raised an amendment to change the bill Wednesday morning only to withdraw it Instead, Democrats will seek write a new tax provision into the legislation when their leaders merge the Finance Committee's bill with a measure already approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee." The so-called Cadillac tax issue "is one of the most critical concerns" expressed about the Baucus bill by the committee's Democrats. "Labor unions, a powerful Democratic constituency, oppose the tax outright but Kerry and his allies are seeking to reduce its impact, not eliminate it" (Young, 9/30).
Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he "has cancelled the Senate's Columbus Day recess so that lawmakers can focus on passing healthcare reform legislation during the week of Oct. 12," the Hill reports.
Dow Jones Newswires/Wall Street Journal: Reid said the Senate will not hold votes on Monday, Oct. 12, the holiday, but "will return to vote on Tuesday, Oct. 13 and possibly begin debate on health-care legislation. 'I think with health care, which is really beginning to ferment, it wouldn't be right for us to be gone that week,' Reid said. 'I think we should be able to start our health-care work that week here on the Senate floor'" (Yoest, 9/30).
And on the other side of the Capitol, "House liberals, challenged by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to prove they can pass their preferred public option, are surveying the rest of the Democratic caucus Wednesday," the Hill reports in a second story. "The 'whip count' started last night" and is being carried out by the Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus. The goal of the effort is "to prove that there are a majority 218 votes in the House for what liberals call a 'robust public option'" (Soraghan, 9/30).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.