JACKIE JUDD: Good day. I am Jackie Judd with Health on the Hill, a conversation about efforts to pass health care reform legislation. Joining me, Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News. Good morning.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Good morning.
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JACKIE JUDD: This is going to be a critical week for health care reform. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow, Tuesday. What does the vote count look like?
MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, Senator Baucus, Max Baucus, who is chairman of the Committee, has said he thinks he has enough votes to pass the Bill. Some Democrats may not support it. We will have to see how the vote shakes out. For example, Ron Wyden, the Democrat of Oregon, has said that he thinks employees, workers need make their own choices for health insurance versus having to accept or decline a policy their employer picks for them.
Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat of West Virginia, has been concerned about the amount of money that the insurance industry will receive in the Bill and whether or not they will be held accountable to make the changes they are supposed to make. Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas has talked about the cost of the Bill.
And on the Republican side, the Democrats as we know have been courting Olympia Snowe of Maine and she has expressed some concerns about whether the coverage will be affordable to people and whether or not they should have to pay something called the individual mandate, if they don’t get coverage. So, we will have to see how all that plays out.
JACKIE JUDD: Okay and then moving away from the Senate Finance Committee, there was big news this morning when AHIP, America’s Health Insurance Plans, came out with a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting firm, and the bottom line they claim is this, that it will cost families and individuals more with reform than without in terms of premiums. What are the repercussions of this?
MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, I think that this is not completely unexpected. As we know, the insurance industry has been very concerned about some changes that were made in the individual mandate, again a financial penalty you would have to incur if you didn’t get health insurance. It was weakened somewhat in the Senate Finance Committee deliberations and AHIP and other insurers have said everyone must be in at the beginning. So you have to have a very, very strong individual mandate.
The insurance industry is also concerned about provision in the Senate Finance Bill that would put a tax, an excise tax, on the highest cost health insurance plans, and put other taxes on the insurance industry they say will just be passed through to consumers.
JACKIE JUDD: Do we know yet what AHIP plans to do with this? Is this going to be an Inside the Beltway debate or will there be a national campaign wrapped around this new accounting report?
MARY AGNES CAREY: Right, that has been in some of the news reports, have said they’d plan an advertising campaign. I think we would have to see the size and the scope. Are we talking about a Washington only campaign? Are we talking about a national campaign? Let’s remember Harry and Louise, two characters that the insurance industry created during the Clinton Health Care Debate, and they simply read provisions of the Bill.
They were a husband and wife at their kitchen table, talking about the Clinton Health Care package and expressing their concerns, and those commercials were key to the defeat of the Clinton Health Care Bill. I think it’s unclear what the insurance industry is going to do at this point, but they are obviously concerned, they are pushing back against this Bill because as you noted at the top of our conversation, it’s a really critical time on Capitol Hill.
JACKIE JUDD: And is it too early to say yet what the organization wants?
MARY AGNES CAREY: I think they very clearly want a tougher individual mandate. Remember, we have all these different committees in the House and the Senate, they pass their legislation, then those Committees’ products are merged and brought to the floor, and then we will have something called a House and Senate Conference Committee.
So I think that the insurance industry would very much like that individual mandate toughened at some point in the deliberations. They also would love to get rid of this excise tax on the high cost insurance plans and also more fees on their industry.
JACKIE JUDD: And do you think that the fact that this group stepped forward with something that was so critical to the administrations efforts and the efforts of Democrats on the Hill, does it open the flood gates to other special interest groups to do the same?
MARY AGNES CAREY: We have already heard some concerns from some sectors of the hospital industry who say on the Senate Finance Bill they don’t think it will cover enough people and they had reached a deal, the hospital sector had reached a deal between the White House and the Finance Committee for a savings predicated on a certain number of people being insured, so that is already out there.
We have had physicians that are very concerned that the Senate Finance Bill doesn’t do enough to correct a payment formula in the Medicare Program that every year is supposed to cut, recently every year it’s supposed to cut physician payments in Medicare, Congress steps in and stops it, but the physician community wants a permanent fix.
The key thing here is that all these groups have to stay at the table for health reform to pass. Their support is critical. Now whether or not the movement by the insurance industry will signal louder complaints from other sectors is to be seen, but it certainly could cause some concern.
JACKIE JUDD: Okay well thanks very much and we will check in with you again tomorrow after the vote.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Great.
JACKIE JUDD: Thank you so much, and thank you for joining us. I’m Jackie Judd.