House Democrats To Unveil Health Care Bill Details

"After a series of false starts, House Democrats are finally expected to unveil the details of a sweeping reform measure on Tuesday that would drastically revamp the country's health care system," Politico reports. "Party leaders had initially planned to introduce legislation last week and start considering it in committees this week. But that timeline was scuttled when a parade of moderates threw up their arms last week at a draft of the bill offered weeks earlier by the three chairmen writing it." While the Democrats "know that the clock is ticking—that the slower the process goes, the more time opponents will have to plant doubts in the minds of voters," Republicans are "feeling giddy—free to stand back and watch as Democrats fight amongst themselves."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "acknowledged Monday that 'in order for us to be on schedule, we have to roll out our legislation this week.' But she cautioned that any legislation Democrats release this week 'won’t be the finished product' — a nod to her own rank and file that leaders are willing to make changes once the bill has been introduced. The speaker met with Obama at the White House on Monday, along with House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.)" (O'Connor and Frates).

Dow Jones Newswires reports that "Pelosi largely dismissed concerns that the legislation is losing the support of members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative House Democrats." Members of the Blue Dog Coalition have "pushed for Medicare reimbursements be pegged to the quality of the treatment they provide. They also want to see small businesses shielded from requirements that employers provide health coverage, as well as provisions to aid doctors and hospitals providing care in rural areas. Other moderate Democrats have shown reluctance to accept House Ways and Means Charles Rangel's plan to pay for much of the bill: a package of surtaxes on families making $350,000 or more. Pelosi appeared supportive of the surtax proposal, saying it would prevent middle-class people from bearing new cost burdens. But she made it clear that no provisions in the bill are cast in stone" (Yoest, 7/13).

Roll Call adds that "New Democrats added their voice to the conservative Blue Dogs in a letter to leadership that slammed plans to use Medicare reimbursement rates as the basis for such a plan. 'Any public option that reimburses providers based on Medicare will ultimately undermine the ability of patients to receive their choice of care,' the letter states. Blue Dog Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) has called the issue of Medicare rates a deal-breaker for most Blue Dogs, arguing that regional disparities must be addressed first to ensure access to doctors, particularly in rural areas. But the liberal Progressive Caucus is demanding a Medicare-like public plan that is available to anyone." During her news conference, Pelosi stressed that the bill would benefit middle-class Americans and "lower their costs, improve their quality, expand their coverage and do so in a way that gives them piece of mind. ... This is about them." Democratic leaders said that "the bill would eliminate the 'doughnut hole' in the Medicare prescription drug benefit and provide large tax breaks to small businesses." They are "eager for cover on how to pay for the bill from Obama" (Dennis, 7/14).

Meanwhile, "Pushing back against Democratic plans to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, Republicans on Tuesday readied a less costly alternative they say will make insurance more affordable," Reuters reports. "Representative David Camp, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the plan offered significant reforms, including incentives for healthy living, protection for doctors against malpractice lawsuits and tax breaks to encourage small businesses to offer insurance to their workers" (Smith, 7/13).

In other news, Health Economy Now, "a coalition of groups supporting the push for health care reform, is dropping $7 million on a new television ad campaign to build momentum for a reform bill and to keep six moderate House Democrats from walking away from supporting legislation as it moves through Congress in the coming weeks," Roll Call reports in a separate article. All six are members of the Blue Dog Coalition, but none are "considered particularly vulnerable at this stage of the election cycle" (McArdle and Ackley, 7/14).

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