Finance Committee Senators May Drop Employer Mandate, Public Plan
Senate Finance Committee members negotiating a sweeping health care reform package are close to dropping a requirement that employers provide health insurance for employees as well as a government-run public insurance plan to forge a compromise, The Associated Press reports. "After weeks of secretive talks, three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee were edging closer to a compromise that excludes a requirement many congressional Democrats seek for large businesses to offer coverage to their workers. Nor would there be a provision for a government insurance option, despite Obama's support for such a plan, officials said."
Senate leaders "stressed that no agreement has been reached on a bipartisan measure, and said there is no guarantee of one, with numerous key issues remaining to be settled. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss matters under private negotiations." They also said any resulting legislation would likely "provide for a nonprofit cooperative to sell insurance in competition with private industry, rather than giving the federal government a role in the marketplace. Officials also said a bipartisan compromise in the Senate would not subject large companies to a penalty if they declined to offer coverage to their workers. Instead, these businesses would be required to reimburse the government for part or all of any federal subsidies designed to help lower-income employees obtain insurance on their own" (Espo and Werner, 7/28).
The New York Times provides more details about the ongoing negotiations: "Members of the group said they had discussed a proposal to impose a new excise tax on health insurance companies that sell policies worth much more than the national average. The average employer-sponsored insurance plan has a premium of about $5,000 for individual coverage and $13,000 for family coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, said the Finance Committee proposal would affect not just 'gold-plated Cadillac' plans costing $40,000 a year. Instead, Ms. Snowe said, senators might draw the line 'in the vicinity of $25,000'" (Hulse and Pear, 7/27).
The Washington Post: The Finance Committee "could prove to be a critical road map for attracting the few GOP votes needed for a bill's passage in the Senate, as well as for rallying support among conservative House Democrats who are worried about regional disparities in Medicare payments to health-care providers and a large tax on the wealthy to finance the legislation" (Kane, 7/28).
The New York Times, in a separate story, reports that the Finance plan "will have to be more conservative than the measures proposed by the House or the left-leaning Senate health committee. And that could force Mr. Obama to choose between backing the bipartisan deal or rank-and-file Democrats who want a bill that more closely reflects their liberal ideals" (Herszenhorn and Pear, 7/27).
The near-compromise "could bring even greater pressure on Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has been challenged by more liberal senators who say he is sacrificing key Democratic priorities on health care reform to win the votes of a few," Politico reports. "On the nonprofit insurance cooperative, Snowe also said no final decisions have been reached, but 'it is safe to say it is probably one that will remain in the final document'" (Brown, 7/27).
Meanwhile, Roll Call reports: "Though Democrats remain nervous about the direction of the Finance talks, they are now trying to mine the political benefits from negotiations that have continued for more than a month longer than planned. 'Reforming health care - and doing it the right way - is not just a health issue. It's also an economic issue. ... It's why we are committed to getting this right, not just getting it done by an arbitrary deadline,' Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday in remarks delivered on the floor that strongly resembled Republican talking points. A senior Democratic Senate aide, noting that Baucus has assured Reid that a Finance Committee markup of a health care bill will begin before the chamber adjourns Aug. 7, described the 'slipping' of the early August deadline as the 'best thing' that could have happened to Senate Democrats" (Drucker, 7/28).