Amid Health Bill Delays And Snags, Lawmakers Target Issues

The wait for the Congressional Budget Office score on the Senate health care reform bill has left Senators with time to carefully consider all the angles on reform, The New York Times reports. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "has already received some substantial analysis of his measure, and if the numbers had been what he wanted, he would have released a bill by now. Instead, he has repeatedly gone back to the budget office with variations of the legislation" to limit the cost of the bill while maximizing the number of people covered (Herszenhorn, 11/15).

Roll Call reports, however, that Reid is confident debate will begin on the bill before Thanksgiving. "Reid wanted to get the ball rolling on the overhaul early this week armed with a Congressional Budget Office analysis, but because that CBO score didn't come on Friday as he had hoped, Democratic aides said the Majority Leader is prepared to push back his timeline.... Democratic aides said last week that they do not believe that any member of the 60-strong Democratic Conference will vote to prevent the full Senate from bringing the measure to the floor." Reid "would like to spend all three weeks before Christmas amending and debating the health care bill" (Pierce, 11/16).

The Las Vegas Sun reports that just getting the bill to the floor will prove difficult for Reid. "Reid, ever the obsessive vote counter, believes he is about there, even though some dissenting Democrats, including Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, continue to withhold their support for the procedural step until they see the actual bill and its financial analysis." If debate commences, it promises to be muddied up by the many amendments both Republicans and Democrats are promising to offer, the Las Vegas Sun reports (Mascaro, 11/15).

Politico reports that Democrats stand to "reap the political rewards if they can pull off health reform, by achieving near-universal coverage, toughening regulations on private insurers and transforming the way health care is delivered. But Democrats have glossed over nagging details of just how limited reform’s reach would be for some Americans. And if voters figure it out, experts warn there could be a political backlash." "Landmines" in the bill include the public option, fines for not carrying insurance, premiums and less money for Medicare (Budoff Brown and Frates, 11/16).

The Associated Press reports a new AP poll (conducted by Stanford University with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) found that the fine print in health bills worries some Americans. "Despite a widely shared conviction that major health care changes are needed, Democratic bills that aim to extend coverage to the uninsured and hold down medical costs get no better than a lukewarm reception in the latest results." Of those surveyed by the poll, 43 percent oppose the plans while 41 support them. Fifteen percent remain undecided. "In one particularly striking finding, the poll indicated that public support for banning insurance practices that discriminate against those in poor health may not be as solid as it seems." When told it would probably cause them to pay more for their insurance, 43 percent said "they would still support doing away with pre-existing condition denials but 31 percent said they would oppose it" (Alonso-Zaldivar and Tompson, 11/16).

In related coverage, The Associated Press has the verbatim comments of some health care reform poll takers (11/16).

Meanwhile, The Hill reports that from House Democrats, the bill has become "a political hot potato. Few Democrats in big races are jumping headlong into supporting the healthcare bill the House passed last weekend. While those running in blue areas or in tough Democratic primaries quibble with its abortion-funding restrictions, those running in red areas worry about the cost of the package." That's especially true of lawmakers and congressional hopefuls in Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio and Missouri (Blake, 11/14).

Finally, Kaiser Health News provides highlights of the weekend's health policy headlines, including the latest on the Senate Democrats' health bill, a CMS analysis of the House-passed reform measure and the continued fracas over abortion provisions.

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