‘Final’ Finance Committe Health Bill May Not Be Final Word For Senate
Chairman Max Baucus released the full text of the Senate Finance Committee's health care overhaul bill late Friday and news outlets examined it and looked ahead.
The New York Times: "Committee members plan to vote on the bill next week after they receive an estimate of its costs from the Congressional Budget Office. The bill would require most Americans to have insurance, would offer federal subsidies to help pay the premiums and would significantly expand Medicaid. To help offset the cost, it would cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the projected growth of Medicare, impose a new excise tax on high-cost insurance plans and charge annual fees to insurers, drug companies and manufacturers of medical devices."
"Before it finished work at 2:15 a.m. Friday, the committee voted to reduce penalties on people who go without insurance. The maximum penalty for a family was cut to $800, from $1,900, and it would be phased in gradually from 2014 to 2017" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 10/3).
CongressDaily reports that Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, "sponsored an amendment with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., adopted 22-1, that would exempt from the individual coverage mandate individuals whose insurance costs would exceed 8 percent of their annual income. The Finance Committee proposal originally set the hardship waiver at 10 percent of income. The amendment means 2 million fewer people will have insurance than under the original waiver policy. Senate Minority Whip Kyl was the only senator to vote no."
"The Schumer-Snowe amendment also cuts penalties for violating the mandate. 'We shouldn't punish people before the rate reforms have fully kicked in, before we have been able to evaluate the plans on the exchange, that they're affordable,' Snowe said" (Edney, 10/2).
Kaiser Health News: "Health insurers have held their fire as Congress debates payment cuts, new fees and taxes and more regulation for their industry. Now the question is: Will they balk or walk if lawmakers continue to weaken a requirement that people carry insurance? The individual mandate under which most people would be required to have coverage or pay a penalty -- is a key part of the architecture of the health overhaul legislation. In exchange, insurers have promised to stop denying coverage based on a pre-existing medical condition or canceling coverage once someone gets sick."
"The insurance industry is clearly worried about the mandate being defanged. As the Finance committee mulled changes to its health package Thursday, America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, sent an emergency alert to its members at 9:17 p.m. ... Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for AHIP, said Friday that the changes in the requirement could mean that fewer people would have health insurance, creating higher costs for those who do" (Carey, 10/2).
Los Angeles Times: "The healthcare debate in Congress will enter a more intensive phase now that the Senate Finance Committee has nearly completed its far-reaching overhaul legislation. The question still dividing Democrats is whether the bill is far-reaching enough. The finance panel finished considering amendments in the early morning hours Friday, after approving ones to shore up the Democrats' position on a politically explosive issue: making sure that the bill does not saddle middle-class families with insurance costs they cannot afford."
"Otherwise, the panel left largely intact the middle-of-the-road bill sponsored by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), despite attacks from the left and right. The panel's final vote on the bill is to come early next week, after its cost and impact are assessed by the Congressional Budget Office" (Hook, 10/3).
Politico reports that even before next week's vote, "the process of overhauling the nation's $2.5 trillion health care system has already begun to move to the discreet backrooms of the Capitol, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will begin huddling next week with other top Democrats to meld two competing Senate bills."
"So, no public option in the Finance bill? That's fine, says Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y), who believes his best shot is during the conference committee, even though he still lacks 60 votes for a plan. The employer mandate, also not in the Baucus bill? Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) punted on this idea in Senate Finance but says he'll bring it back. ... Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wants to boost the insurance subsidies for low- and moderate-income individuals, but other affordability measures took precedence in the Finance Committee" (Budoff Brown, 10/3).
The Associated Press: "Many middle-class Americans would still struggle to pay for health insurance despite efforts by President Barack Obama and Democrats to make coverage more affordable. ... new tax credits to help with premiums won't go far enough for everyone. Some middle-class families purchasing their own coverage through new insurance exchanges could find it out of reach."
"Lawmakers recognize the problem. 'For some people it's going to be a heavy lift,' said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. 'We're doing our best to make sure it's not an impossible lift.' Added Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine: 'We have no certainty as to whether or not these plans are going to be affordable.' Both are on the Senate Finance Committee" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 10/3).