Health Bill: Centrists Offer A Set Of Amendments; Weekend Votes Planned

The Associated Press: "Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., unveiled a package of amendments Friday that would reward Medicare patients for picking efficient doctors, require insurance companies to make public more information about claims denials and speed up programs shifting from paying providers for services to paying them for performance. Collins cited an 'inexcusably high rate of hospital-acquired infections' and said the amendments would double penalties already included in the bill for hospitals with high infection rates. The amendments could also have the effect of making the legislation more palatable to Collins and Lieberman, who have voiced opposition to the bill because it includes a new government insurance plan to compete with the private market."

The two Senators, both of whom hold "crucial" votes for Democrats to attract, said they wanted to support health care legislation, but the government-run insurance option continued to be a "sticking point." Collins said the reforms in the bill "represent positive improvements to our current health care delivery system." Lieberman said the bill was a good one in many ways, specifically "noting that it includes attempts at cost controls, extends coverage to millions of the uninsured and bars insurance industry practices like denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions" (Werner, 12/4).

Also, "Lieberman was asked if compromise public option language being crafted by Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, could gain his vote. 'I respect Tom Carper and he is a dear friend,' said Lieberman. 'But the answer is no.' Lieberman said he hopes Democrats will drop the public option soon because the debate has turned from an attempt to improve health reform to an attempt to come to a political compromise," reports The ABC News blog, George's Bottom Line (12/4).

USA Today's On Politics: "Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats are working furiously behind the scenes to find a compromise on abortion and a proposed government-run health insurance program -- two issues that have divided the Democratic caucus in recent weeks." He said the abortion debate would take place on Monday at the earliest (12/4).

Meanwhile, the focus of the Senate's health debate Friday is on "proposed reductions to Medicare Advantage, the privately administered plans that provide enhanced benefits but now typically cost the federal government more than traditional Medicare," New York Times' Prescriptions reports. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, "has proposed an amendment to block the cuts, which would reduce spending on Medicare Advantage plans by about $120 billion over 10 years" (Herszenhorn, 12/4).

The Hill's Blog Briefing Room:  "Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) will be allowed to cosponsor an amendment requiring lawmakers to join the public option." Initially, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) didn't want him to be among the provision's cosponsors, which Coburn crafted with Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (O'Brien, 12/4).

Brown "forced his way onto a Republican amendment … becoming a co-sponsor of a Republican protest measure that would require Congress to go on the public option if it passes," according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Open. "Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma didn't seem to be in a hurry to bring on Brown as a co-sponsor. Coburn had Republican co-sponsors, but Brown's office says the Ohio Democrat never could get a commitment to be added, despite nine calls from his staff to Coburn's staff over the last week" (Koff, 12/4).

The Hill: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday the Senate will hold votes on heatlh bill amendments on Saturday and Sunday -- an "unusual full-weekend session." Saturday's debate will include an amendment by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., "to limit compensation for health insurance executives." In addition, "Reid indicated that Senate Democrats may convene for a caucus meeting to discuss the healthcare bill Sunday" (Young, 12/4).

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