The Kaiser Family Foundation’s Jackie Judd talks to KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey and Eric Pianin about health care reform legislation: President Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening, and Sen. Max Baucus’s efforts to gain some Republican support for his draft legislation.
JACKIE JUDD: Good day, I’m Jackie Judd and this is Health on the Hill. Joining me are Kaiser Health news reporters, Mary Agnes Carey and Eric Pianin to discuss health care reform legislation. Two items of note today, President Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress this evening and Senator Max Baucus’s efforts to gain some Republican support for his draft legislation before that speech begins.
Mary Agnes, what is in the draft that Senator Baucus, who is of course the Chair of Senate Finance, put out yesterday?
MARY AGNES CAREY: There are a lot of elements that have been discussed on Capitol Hill, for example, an individual mandate to have insurance coverage. There are some exceptions to that. Employers would not be required to offer coverage, but if your business had 50 or more employees and you had an employee that got some help through a federal subsidy or the Medicaid program, you might be required to help reimburse the government for some of that.
There are health insurance exchanges that would try to help consumers find affordable coverage. There is no public option, but instead this health care co-op approach that they have been discussing.
JACKIE JUDD: And what about the funding mechanisms?
MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, it would be a variety of things. You would have a tax on high cost insurance, health insurance plans and here we’re talking about plans that might be more than $8,000 for a single person or $21,000 for a family plan. There is also another health insurance industry tax that’s supposed to bring in about $6 billion a year.
You also would have taxes on drug makers, medical device manufacturers, clinical labs, a variety of taxes that are aimed to try to raise the revenue for this bill, which would cost about $900 billion over the next decade.
ERIC PIANIN: I think it’s also significant to point out that this is the first major health care proposal that’s had significant Republican input, which is not to say this is a bipartisan plan at this point, but –
JACKIE JUDD: Well Eric, who has signed on among this small core group that Baucus has been negotiating with for many months now?
ERIC PIANIN: Well, the so-called gang of six basically is still hanging back. This is a Max Baucus proposal, framework for a bipartisan bill. We know that he’s working very closely with Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, who’s also Chairman of the Budget Committee who seems to be in synch with Baucus.
Jeff Bingaman, the other Democrat in the negotiating committee, has been keeping his thoughts to himself primarily. We still have three Republican negotiators who are hanging back, including Olympia Snowe, who probably is the best hope for the Democrats to come on board.
JACKIE JUDD: And the Senator has given those folks until later this morning to say yea or nay?
ERIC PIANIN: That’s right. Baucus met with reporters yesterday afternoon after spending a couple of hours behind closed doors with the negotiators, he generally spelled out his framework, but it was clear that he was still waiting for his fellow negotiators to sign off. I’m sure the White House would like to get clearer signals too, but whether there is potential for bipartisanship before the president gives his speech tonight.
JACKIE JUDD: What do we know about what the president will say this evening?
ERIC PIANIN: Well, here again the White House is being very cagey in discussing what the president’s likely to say. In fact, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker were over to see the president yesterday and I think he didn’t exactly spill the beans in what he’s going to say exactly tonight.
But I do think that the president is facing a tough challenge in his speech, which he has, you know, several goals. One is to remind Americans of why reform is essential now, to spell out more clearly than he has in the past his vision of health care legislation with more specifics then he’s been willing to provide up until now and to try to unite his party, which is splintered on this issue as it’s been splintered a few times in recent years.
JACKIE JUDD: Mary Agnes, on Capitol Hill what is the feeling, among democratic lawmakers in particular, about whether the president has missed a window of opportunity or whether this speech can really be a turning point in the debate?
MARY AGNES CAREY: I think that they have respected his actions so far in the sense where he’s laid out these broad principles and wants Congress to fill in the details. But they know that the momentum has really drifted over the August recess and they want the president to step up, as Eric said, to be specific, to say what he wants and to help Democrats regain momentum on this issue.
I think that they’re looking at this speech really as a defining moment in this historic healthcare debate and that what the president says or doesn’t say could have an incredibly powerful impact on how these negotiations play out this fall.
JACKIE JUDD: Okay. Thank you both very much. Mary Agnes Carey and Eric Pianin. I’m Jackie Judd, thank you for joining us.