Senate Finance Version Of Health Legislation Unveiled

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus unveiled his version of a health overhaul bill, which has no public option and requires most people to have health insurance coverage.

The Associated Press reports: "Sen. Max Baucus on Wednesday brought out the much-awaited Finance Committee version of an American health-system remake — a landmark $856 billion, 10-year measure that starts a rough ride through Congress without visible Republican backing." Some of the bill's highlights include: "Consumers would be able to shop for and compare insurance plans in a new purchasing exchange. Medicaid would be expanded, and caps would be placed on patients' yearly health care costs. The plan would be paid for with $507 billion in cuts to government health programs and $349 billion in new taxes and fees, including a tax on high-end insurance plans and fees on insurance companies and medical device manufacturers."

"The bill fails to fulfill President Barack Obama's aim of creating a new government-run insurance plan — or option — to compete with the private market. It proposes instead a system of nonprofit member owned cooperatives. ... That was one of many concessions meant to win over Republicans. In other ways though, including its overall cost and payment mechanisms, the bill tracks closely with the priorities Obama laid out in his speech to Congress last week. Baucus is still holding out hope for GOP support when his committee actually votes on the bill, probably as early as next week" (Werner and Alonso-Zaldivar, 9/16).  

The Washington Post reports that Baucus said the "'common-sense package' would work for patients, health-care providers and the economy and would not 'add a dime to the deficit.' He also pledged that it would rein in soaring health-care costs" (Branigin and Montgomery, 9/16).

Kaiser Health News reports on the bill's unveiling and includes a copy of "America's Health Future Act of 2009" (Carey, 9/16).

ABC News reports that the bill "is likely to be met with criticism on both sides of the political aisle. ... Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Democrats are going to hold a special caucus Thursday to discuss the package put forward by the Finance Committee. ... Baucus had set today as his deadline for the bill, despite outcry from both his party members and the GOP. Some Democrats said they would not vote for the bill in its current form because it lacks a 'public option,' a government-run insurance program that would compete with private insurance companies. Republicans say the plan is too costly."

"Despite the differences, the bill that would pass the Senate Finance Committee has the best chance at bipartisanship. Bills proposed by three House committees and the Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor led to backlash by conservatives and a rowdy recess for many Democratic lawmakers" (Khan, 9/16). 

New York Times Prescriptions Blog reports: "Senators in both parties are questioning whether, at the end of the day, insurance will be affordable to the people who need it most — perhaps the single most crucial question for all of the health care overhaul proposals" (Herszenhorn, 9/16).

CNN reports: "GOP sources close to the senators stressed that they intend to keep negotiating and plan to offer amendments. Wednesday morning Baucus said he was optimistic that the bill would ultimately win GOP votes ... Baucus said the negotiators were tackling a range of controversial issues, including medical malpractice, ensuring a denial of benefits to illegal immigrants and expanding federal support for Medicaid. Another of the Finance Committee negotiators, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, said the negotiators also considered a provision to specifically prohibit any provisions in the health care proposal from funding abortion" (9/16).

Wall Street Journal reports: "More than a year in the making, the bill would overhaul the nation's health-care system and has sparked a sharp battle between Republican leaders and the White House over the size and role of government in the nation's economy. ... Among other things, the bill would levy a new 35% excise tax on high-dollar insurance plans. The tax would fall on insurers offering plans with values above $8,000 for individuals and $21,000 for families. The premium tax would take effect in 2013 and raise $215 billion over 10 years, according to a preliminary estimate from the Joint Committee on Taxation. The bill would would also levy a total of $93 billion in fees on health-care-related industries over 10 years, to help offset the bill's price tag. Pharmaceutical firms would face an annual assessment of $2.3 billion, medical-device manufacturers $4 billion and health insurers $6 billion, all apportioned according to a company's market share" (Hitt, Yoest and Vaughan, 9/16).

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