House Democrats Push Their Health Reform Plan

House Democrats' health care bill draft released Friday is likely to survive relatively intact, "including a robust new Medicare-like public health plan that would compete with private companies in a national health insurance exchange," Roll Call reports.

House committees will begin hearings this week on the bill, which also includes national health insurance exchanges and would give subsidies to people living up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $88,000 this year for a family of four. Medicaid would be expanded to families up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

"The plan would be paid for by a new 8 percent payroll tax on employers that do not provide health insurance to their employees, a new 2 percent tax on individuals who do not buy health insurance, other taxes still to be determined, and cuts within the Medicare and Medicaid programs." Congressional Budget Office numbers have not been released on the bill, "(b)ut Democrats said their plan would ultimately result in lower costs by reforming a system that they argue is full of waste. 'There is no question that we will be saving trillions of dollars in the industry,' Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., said. 'Is this going to bring down the cost of health insurance? You bet your sweet life.'"

"Republicans, who released a four-page outline of their health care alternative Wednesday, ripped the plan minutes after it was released. 'This plan is nothing less than a government takeover of health care, and families and small businesses who are already footing the bill for Washington’s reckless spending binge will not support it,' House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said" (Dennis, 6/22).

New York Times: "Under the House bill, health insurance would be regulated by a powerful new federal agency, headed by a presidential appointee known as the health choices commissioner."

"Under the bill, the public plan would be run by the Department of Health and Human Services and would offer three or four policies, with different levels of benefits. The plan would initially use Medicare fee schedules, paying most doctors and hospitals at Medicare rates, plus about 5 percent. After three years, the health secretary could negotiate with doctors and hospitals" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 6/19).

CQPolitics: "Under one provision in the 852-page draft legislation, health insurance companies would have their profit and administrative margins limited to 15 percent of the money they take in through premiums. Known as a “minimum loss ratio,” the requirement would take effect within a year of the bill’s enactment into law and would apply to all private insurers. Health insurance customers would get any extra money rebated back to them, according to the bill" (Armstrong, 6/19).

There are some misgivings on the bill, however, in the Democratic Party, CongressDaily reports: "Rep. Jim Cooper (Democrat) of Tennessee has emerged as the leading critic of leadership for not working with Republicans. Ramming partisan legislation through using the fast-track reconciliation process is not a sustainable option, Cooper argued, and he said he will push for a bill some Republicans can support" (Edney, 6/19).

The Washington Times: "Industry and advocacy groups were split. The insurance industry said it is concerned about the public plan, while AARP praised it as a good first step" (Haberkorn, 6/20).

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